The Royal Society for the Support of Women of Scotland is a national charity operating throughout Scotland with the purpose of providing financial support to single women over the age of 50 who struggle to live on low income and limited savings.
Its roots go back to Victorian days when, as described by Dr Doris Hatvany in her book “The Royal Society for the Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland…a History 1847-1997 ”....
“male-dominated society regarded marriage and motherhood as the only role for middle-class women. Unmarried women formed a sort of sub-class: many had seen marriage pass them by, or they spent much of their lives caring for ageing parents or younger members of their family. Well-educated, but trained for no profession, they were considered by their maternal instincts and without further training to be well-suited to teaching, working as governesses, needlework or tuition in the pianoforte. Many found themselves living in a social limbo, dealing with unruly children, despised by their employers yet by birth and education unable to mix with the servants…. Many suffered the fate of the Bronte sisters, whose struggle to survive by teaching and working as governesses resulted in such novels as Jane Eyre, Villette or Agnes Grey. This last, published in December 1846, was a stark realisation of the governess’ situation, though unlike those who would in time become beneficiaries of the Indigent Gentlewomen’s Fund, Agnes Grey married her curate and no doubt lived happily ever after”.
From the earliest days, when Mr William P Mitchell, an Edinburgh solicitor put forward his scheme to help “indigent gentlewomen”, the Society has grown its charitable purposes, its capital base, its income and its Roll of Beneficiaries, such that today it distributes in excess of £1million each year to over 800 unmarried, widowed and divorced women across all sections of Scottish society.
Known affectionately for much of its time as the “Indigent Gentlewomen’s Fund” or “IGF” the Society changed its formal name to “The Royal Society for the Support of Women of Scotland” in 2015, upon the adoption of a new Supplementary Charter. A timeline of the Society’s development can be followed here, and to catch up with its activities in more recent times please see the latest Annual Reports here.
The Society operates from 14 Rutland Square in Edinburgh, from offices it first occupied in 1909. A small staff team based in Edinburgh works alongside Caseworkers based around Scotland. Further details of the staff team can be found here.
The work of the Society is overseen by its General Committee of Management, a 15-strong team of trustees with equal representation from the East and West of Scotland, reflecting the early days of the charity, and overseen by a Chairman. The Committee meets quarterly and is responsible for all admissions to the Roll of Beneficiaries, as well as the running of the charity itself. The current membership of the Committee is available here.
During it's lifetime, we calculate that the Society has so far distributed over £32 million in direct payments. Adjusting for inflation, this is equivalent to over £150 million in today’s money.