Feminist historian and journalist
Thursday 17 March 2005
Susan Katriona Innes, writer, journalist, historian and activist: born Weymouth, Dorset 4 May 1948; Children's Page Editor, The Scotsman
1988-95; Editor, Living, Scotland on Sunday
1996-97; Lecturer, Glasgow University 1999-2001; reporter, Scottish Parliament Official Report
2001-02; Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University 2004; married 1980 John Clifford (two daughters); died Edinburgh 24 February 2005.
Susan Katriona Innes, writer, journalist, historian and activist: born Weymouth, Dorset 4 May 1948; Children's Page Editor, The Scotsman 1988-95; Editor, Living, Scotland on Sunday 1996-97; Lecturer, Glasgow University 1999-2001; reporter, Scottish Parliament Official Report 2001-02; Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University 2004; married 1980 John Clifford (two daughters); died Edinburgh 24 February 2005.
At a party held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh last October to celebrate The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, Sue Innes, historian, writer, feminist activist and a co-editor of the dictionary, acknowledged that celebration was a bit premature: the book was not scheduled to be published for at least a year. "I'm sure there will be more parties around the dictionary," she said, "but I may not be able to attend them all. I wanted us to have a party that I could attend."
Having thus acknowledged the brain tumour which (as everyone in the room knew) was killing her, she moved off in her wheelchair to chat to friends. Five months later, she died, aged 56.
Born in 1948, Sue Innes attended Peterhead Academy and Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen. Dropping out in 1967, she went to the United States, where she became involved in feminism and the campaign against the Vietnam War. She returned to Scotland and in 1970, aged 22, began her first year as an undergraduate at St Andrews University.
In this conservative environment, she created quite a stir, with her first-hand knowledge of US radicalism and rock music, and her flowing, soft- fabric hippie clothes which she would swap at the drop of one of her Janis Joplin hats for a formal evening gown (its elegance belying its almost certain origins at a jumble sale) when some posh young man wanted - as many did - to take her to a ball.
She studied English and Philosophy, and was a co-founder of the first St Andrews women's liberation group. In 1971, when the students' union Charities Committee decided to hold its customary annual beauty contest for first-year female students, she put herself forward as a protest candidate, with a deliberately non-glamorous photograph and a manifesto which declared that, since she was neither more nor less beautiful than any other woman in the university, she would, if elected, work for the abolition of beauty contests everywhere. She did not win.
Graduating in 1974, she pursued a career of writing, political campaigning, academic study, teaching and art which included writing features for The Scotsman, going on anti-nuclear marches and designing and illustrating the feminist publisher Stramullion's 1984 edition of Ellen Galford's novel Moll Cutpurse: her true history.
With her partner the playwright John Clifford she lived for a while on a commune, and in 1980 and 1985 gave birth to their daughters Rebecca and Katie. (By prior agreement, both daughters were surnamed Innes; had they been sons, they would have been given their father's name.)
Between 1988 and 1995 she was editor of the Living pages of Scotland on Sunday, and wrote a weekly column in which she focused on health, education and social issues, as well as sexual politics.
Innes questioned everything, including her own assumptions and methods. As both a journalist and an academic, she was aware of the risks of glibness on the one hand, and pedantry and obscurantism on the other; her writing trod a delicate path that usually managed to avoid both. In her book Making It Work: women, change and challenge in the 1990s (1995) she wrote:
As campaigners, as feminists, we want to say, we do say, women this, and women that. But to do so is to make invisible the experiences of women to whom these particular arguments do not apply. We cannot talk accurately of women as a group or class; we also need to.
She described her 33-year relationship with John Clifford as "at times tempestuous, but always loving". They shared childcare, but still Innes felt frustrated by having to compete in the workplace with people who either had no domestic responsibilities, or who delegated them to others. "It's only men who have careers," she said once. "Women have lives."
Her passionate interest in women's lives led to her editorial involvement in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, and the 12 entries she was able to complete (including the suffragist Eunice Murray and photographer Franki Raffles) before her illness struck. She described in a recent article in Etudes Ecossaises how the dictionary seeks to move beyond the already well-known (Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Stopes, Jennie Lee) and include "women who were never eminent, but whose lives illuminate the world of ordinary Scotswomen of their time and place, bondagers and bookbinders, fishwives and housewives". She urged her contributors to
consider the subject's whole life, rather than just her claim to fame . . . recording what else she did alongside what has led to her fragile place on the edge of the record.
The dictionary will be published in the spring of 2006 by Edinburgh University Press, and will be dedicated to Sue Innes.
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