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Women of St Andrews: A Reflection of the Past and Future of the Towns Legacy

This Friday, I attended a preview of ‘Women of St Andrews: An Exhibition of Costumes’ from the Kate Kennedy Procession at the St Andrews Heritage Museum. Hosted jointly by the Kate Kennedy Club and the St Andrews Preservation Trust, the 20-odd attendees were made up of club members, locals, and club alumni.

For those unfamiliar, the Heritage Museum is a cosy spot with walls covered in mementoes of the St Andrews of yore. Outside you can find large, curated gardens and upstairs is a lofted, open exhibition space where the costumes were displayed for this event.

Adam Fotheringham, this year’s club President, explained the process that led to the creation of the exhibition, starting with the heritage trust approaching Kate Kennedy for four to five of their over 150 costumes used in the procession. After much consideration of different themes, the club decided to focus the exhibition on women in St Andrews’ history. Upon walking into the room, you can see why. Featuring the intricate and extravagant costumes of Kate Kennedy, Queen/St Margaret, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Dame Lousia Lumsden, and Joan Clark, there is no question of the influence women have had on the history of this town, and seeing these costumes really brings them to life.

Adam expressed hope for the success of the event, saying that “ultimately it’s not too based around us. This is to showcase women in St Andrews and we were lucky enough to provide the costumes. If it gets people interested in the procession that’s great. If it’s a success we’d love to see this exhibition become an annual event.”

Events like these have a great deal of value for the broader St Andrews community. While for many students, the procession is nothing more than a chance to socialise and enjoy the nice weather that usually accompanies early April, the history is much richer.

Beginning in 1926, the annual Kate Kennedy Procession is one of St Andrews’ most long-standing traditions. As we observed the costumes on display, many of the locals and alumni in attendance reflected on their experiences with the procession. Jude Baxter explained with pride how she had donated the side saddle that Queen Mary rode on in the procession (unfortunately, for insurance purposes, this can no longer be used, the club explained), while another attendee remembered walking as a page at five years old.

Will Press, last year’s Kate in the Procession, was in attendance as well. Each year, a ‘promising first year’ is selected to play Kate Kennedy. No one knows until moments before the procession who it will be. Reflecting upon the experience, Will said it was “certainly bizarre” but that it felt like a very big moment.

Ashvin Gupta, editor of the Kate Kennedy College Echos, shared similar sentiments. He worked with Emma Andersson, Keeper of the Costumes, to help organise the event and said it was “very rewarding to work with alumni and see their enthusiasm and involvement.” He also supported Adam’s sentiment that they would “like to see more exhibitions in the future with different eras of history” and that the “club is very focused on keeping history alive.”

As we discussed the procession, one attendee stated that “the locals want to be involved. Students don’t realise this but this is their heritage as well as yours. It’s very important to the town”.

This was the central theme throughout the night. Unsurprisingly, there was much discussion about the controversial recent history of the club. As Will Press said, “This [is] a huge watershed moment, to join the club, coming off of not having a great relationship with the uni and some terrible stuff related to the club. It’s great to see a lot more engagement. As we focus on our history and legacy, where the club is going is very positive.”

Supporting the history and legacy of the town is where they shine. Throughout the evening, I was continuously struck by the pride felt for the town and the strength of the community that had formed out of that.

I feel inclined to support Will’s analysis — as the Kate Kennedy Club continues to evolve and we all steadily move forward into the future, using its resources to support both St Andrews history and bring together the local community is inspiring.

Photo: Ilaria Freccia

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