Glasgow Women, by Nicola Stead

I had already noticed Nicola Stead’s portraits of Glasgow women on her website, stumbled into by chance following links and clicks, and I was taken by the simplicity of them, but also the strength of the women that showed through the great use of light, and sharpness of focus, as well as their expressions. Lovely portraits.
Then, surreptitiously, Nicola reached out to us here at Document Scotland asking if we’d be interested to run the work, to share her story…. – thanks, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.


Julia has lived in Glasgow her whole life. She is a regular member of The Govanites. At 79 years old, she is considered the baby of the group. ©Nicola Stead 2020

Janet is 84 and has lived in Govan all her life. “I think there are good opportunities in Govan for women my age.” ©Nicola Stead 2020

The struggles and achievements of Glasgow women are highlighted within this series, offering a celebration of their lives as well as acknowledging their historical and cultural contribution to the city. Forging links between Glasgow women’s history and women in the city today, the work explores the legacy of Isabella Elder, one of Glasgow’s greatest philanthropists. I discovered Elder through Glasgow Women’s Library. Through research at the library I found the grave of Isabella Elder in Glasgow’s Necropolis. The story of her life and her good deeds fascinated me and from there the journey began.

Elder took a particular interest in women’s education, financing and supporting the foundation of Queen Margaret College in 1883, which enabled Scottish women to be admitted to higher education for the first time. Elder also took an active interest in the welfare of the women of Govan, the site of her late husband’s shipbuilding business. She established a school of domestic economy for local women as well as founding the Elder Cottage Hospital, Cottage Nurses Training Home, Elder Park and the Free Library in the area. She is one of the few historical women commemorated with a statue in Glasgow, which stands in Govan’s Elder Park.

Gilded Lily is a women-led organisation in Govan, which aims to support women to succeed in their own ambitions. They offer a variety of workshops and weekly group meetings. ©Nicola Stead 2020
Salma is originally from Syria and has lived in Glasgow for 1&1/2 years.“There are good opportunities for women from the asylum seeker and refugee community to be part of the wider community of Govan, however the women really need to invest their time to see the results’. ©Nicola Stead 2020

By examining communities of women in Glasgow now, my aim is to discover if Elder’s legacy of female empowerment is still apparent 135 years later. This strand of the series focuses on a variety of women’s groups and organisations in Govan, which reflect the cultural diversity of the area. These groups provide support, nurture, and inspiration for the women involved.

Fouzia is originally from Algeria and has lived in Govan for 2 years. “I am a regular member of Govan Community Project’s women’s group. I also attend cooking and sewing classes at Gilded Lily. All these opportunities have helped to build my confidence.” ©Nicola Stead 2020
Traci is originally from Falkirk and has lived in Govan for 4 years. “There are lots of community groups, and lots of women-led activities in Govan.” ©Nicola Stead 2020
The Women’s Group is a place for women from the asylum seeker and refugee community in Govan to come together and share food, discussion, and participate in arts activities. ©Nicola Stead 2020

In my conversations with the women I asked them to consider whether they thought there were good opportunities for women in their area. I also asked them to choose a place that they would like to be photographed, somewhere that represented a safe space for them. Many chose the location their organisations meet, others chose their home or a place where they felt at home such as a local park or favourite café. I have been greatly impressed and inspired by the women I had the pleasure of meeting throughout this project. I believe that they collectively represent a positive continuation of the legacy of the pioneering and empowering work that Isabella Elder carried out before them. These strong, determined women of Glasgow are well and truly keeping Isabella’s spirit alive.

Nancy is 89 years old and has lived in Govan her whole life. The Govanites is a social group for pensioner aged women in Govan where Nancy goes to meet with her friends. ©Nicola Stead 2020.
Eveleen is originally from Malaysia and has lived in Glasgow for 47 years. “There are opportunities here for women to learn and meet new people.” ©Nicola Stead 2020

Nicola Stead’s photography website, and on Instagram.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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2 thoughts on “Glasgow Women, by Nicola Stead

  1. Congratulations to Nicola Stead for producing work of truly historical nature past and present which will stand the test of time x

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