On 11th September 1970 Amanda-Mackenzie-Stuart (Gl-Ca 1970-1972) arrived at Fettes as an ‘experiment’. Her father, Lord Mackenzie-Stuart (Ca 1938-1942), was an Old Fettesian and a Governor and had asked the then Headmaster, Ian MacIntosh (Staff 1958-1971), whether she could join the Sixth Form as she was unhappy at her day school. Amanda joined Glencorse House due to her family’s friendship with the Housemaster George Buchanan-Smith. She was soon thriving in her academic subjects and participating in debating and in drama.
1970 was also the Centenary year of the College. As part of the celebrations, the Queen Mother visited to open the new science block. Amanda, as the only female pupil was chosen to present a bouquet. The photograph of her giving flowers to the Queen Mother featured in the press and word soon spread that Fettes College now took girls. The ‘experiment’ of girls at Fettes was now reality! Several weeks later Nicola Fairlie (Gl-Ca 1970-1972) joined and more girls signed up for the following academic year.
We spoke to Amanda recently and she told us: ‘My rigorous Fettes education was transformational, and its impact has stayed with me fifty years later.’
In 1971 it was decided that all the girls should be attached to Carrington House as the Housemaster’s daughter, Ann Leslie (Ca 1971-1972) was to join the College. This continued until 1975 when the number of girls grew too large for one house, resulting in girls being attached to Glencorse, Arniston, Kimmerghame and Moredun in addition, with girl boarders lodging with Housemasters and staff families.
The early girls were all pioneers in different ways, some through their academic choices, some through their interests in debating, drama, music or art. In 1972 Nikki Cooper (Ca 1972-1974) came to Fettes as the first girl boarder. Whilst she was attached to Carrington House with the other girls, she lodged with the McMurray family in Moredun and was the first girl to join CCF and to participate in boarding life.
Nikki Cooper told us ‘I have good fond memories of those two years we felt very special all the time, there were only twelve of us. Fettes left a lasting impression on my life’
Sport began in 1976-1977 with enough girls requesting to play sport. Hockey and tennis began first and lacrosse, athletics and netball followed. Sport for girls became compulsory in 1981 with the arrival of girls in the Junior School.
From the mid-70s there were around 30 Sixth Form girls until 1982 when Arniston changed from a boys House to a girls House providing capacity for girls to join the school from Third Form. With increasing numbers School House closed to boys and opened for girls in 1984. It grew too large by 1988, with 92 girls in situ, so was split into two Houses, College East and College West. During this time 1982-1988 there was a day girls’ House in the lower part of the College, called ‘Dalmeny’ House. The number of girls continued to increase, resulting in the need for an additional girls’ House. In 2012 Dalmeny House opened becoming the fourth girls’ House enabling Fettes to become fully co-educational with four girls’ Houses to match the four boys’ Houses.
We have been in touch with some of the ‘first girls’ to gather their reflections of Fettes:
First girl head of school, Julia Close (CE 1988-1993) - ‘I felt it was an honour and a privilege to be the first female head of school. It demonstrated the confidence that the Headmaster Mr Thyne, my Housemistress Mrs Eveling and the other members of staff had in my ability to carry out this role. It also illustrated the progression of the school into recognising the importance of equality between boys and girls.’
First girl Pipe Major, Rhona Cousin (CW 1991-1993) - ‘I was absolutely thrilled and proud to be the first girl Pipe Major at Fettes. As I was relatively new to Fettes I was delighted to have been recognised to have the ability to lead such a prestigious school pipe band.
Having grown up in Campbeltown, the home of many famous pipers, I was aware that there were few girl pipers at the time. My grandfather and older brother played the pipes and my decision to take up the pipes was probably a reflection of a common catch phrase of mine at home. If my brother was doing something I would mainly reply “ and me”!
I hoped that being made the first girl Pipe Major would act as an inspiration for young girls to aspire to positions they once could never attain.’
In 1970 our first girl at Fettes made up 0.23% of the school roll. Now in 2020, girls make up a considerably larger 48.7%. At the start of this academic year there are 770 pupils at Fettes, 375 of whom are girls, with 287 in the College and 88 in the Prep School.
Amanda Forsyth (née Baker) (Ar 1982-1984), President of the Old Fettesian Association provided us with this heart-warming video message on the occasion of the 50th anniversary.
Lucy R, Head Girl, Fettes College 2020/2021 - ‘It was an honour to be asked to be Head Girl, and it is made even more special as we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of girls at Fettes this year. I feel extremely lucky to be the Head Girl in such an important year in the school’s history, where we are not only celebrating the 150th year of the school, but also the 50th year of girls. I find it unbelievable to think how this time 50 years ago, the first girls were being welcomed to the school, as today you would never know that girls weren’t always such a huge part of Fettes. It is amazing to think how in a relatively short space of time girls become so important and Fettes wouldn’t be the same without them. Having been in Arniston, it was fascinating to learn about our history of originally being a boy’s house and to see it now as a thriving house for over 50 girls is very special. To be at Fettes today is such an opportunity for everyone, as it is a place to make lifelong friendships and gain invaluable life skills. For the girls, we are all so lucky to be part of one of four great girl’s houses, where we feel at home and gain confidence which will help to shape us when we leave Fettes.’