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FROM THE ARCHIVE: Maclean sisters had extraordinary lives

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A box of Maclean family correspondence.
A box of Maclean family correspondence.

International Women’s Day is fast approaching (Friday, March 8), and so, with that in mind, we wanted to throw the spotlight onto the Maclean Sisters – four remarkable women.

The Rev. Norman Maclean DD was born on Skye. He was a minister of the Church of Scotland; Moderator of the General Assembly in 1927; King’s Chaplain and travelled extensively including through Palestine, Jerusalem, and Australia. In 1895 he married Jane (Shina) MacCauley and they went on to have four daughters.

Jean Robertson Maclean was born c1897. She went on to become a doctor, graduating from the University of Edinburgh and specialising in surgery and anaesthetics. Jean worked at various hospitals including in Dublin, the South London Hospital for Women and Bolton Infirmary before moving to India to continue her medical career there. Her work focused on children’s welfare, and she wrote various articles on the subject as well as being a passionate fundraiser for the hospitals she worked for.

A letter written by Margaret to Jean describing her new adventure in Milan, December 21 1925.
A letter written by Margaret to Jean describing her new adventure in Milan, December 21 1925.

Helen Alexa Maclean (born in the late 1890s) settled in Edinburgh and during World War II became an emergency driver. She then went on to work for the Ministry of Information where she was involved in (in her own words) “keeping up the morale of the nation”. Later, Helen published various articles in support of the National Labour Party. She also worked on and broadcast on several BBC Radio programmes including BBC Children’s Hour.

Dileas Maclean (born 1903) followed in big sister Jean’s footsteps in becoming a doctor, with a particular interest in child psychology. In 1940 she was part of a panel working with children evacuated to America and Canada. That same year she became Assistant Medical Officer of Health in Essex where her work included school inspections as well as working with antenatal and child welfare clinics.

In 1908, youngest sister Margaret Maclean was born. She was educated in Edinburgh and Switzerland but settled in Skye where she was heavily involved in issues around land management, politics, and crofting. In 1945 she was elected to Inverness County Council representing Portree. Margaret later went on to become Secretary of the Skye Labour Party and was an active campaigner.

An article written by Helen Maclean.
An article written by Helen Maclean.

In 1951 Margaret was appointed to the Commission of Inquiry into Crofting Conditions (the Taylor Commission); the report of which led to the establishment of the Crofters Commission. She also found time to write a series of children’s books inspired by Highland History and Culture.

This collection is made up predominately of correspondence written by all the family, the majority of which is written to Jean from her three sisters, her parents and other family members. It is a fascinating insight into the lives of four extraordinary women.

To learn more about the Maclean Sisters, you can watch the Learn with Lorna talk no. 101 available on the Highland Archive Centre’s Facebook pages and YouTube channel.

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