Dr. Helen Constance Herbert Story (1871 – 1942)

On the 17th of March 1942, Dr. Helen Story donated two watercolours by her sister Elma Story.

Figure 1. Wooden Posts in Lagoon near Venice (2273). © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.
Figure 2. Study of a Beech Tree. (2274). © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

`The Director reported that Dr. Helen Story, 21, Ashton Road, W.1 had gifted two small watercolours by the late Miss Elma Story, and the committee agreed that the gift be accepted and that a letter of thanks be sent to Dr. Story`.1

Helen Constance Herbert Story was born on 13th May 1871 in her maternal grandparents` home at 48 Melville Street, Edinburgh.2 Her father was the Reverend Robert Herbert Story, who had been minister of the parish of Rosneath in Dunbartonshire since 1860.3 Helen`s birth was registered in both Edinburgh and Rosneath. Her mother was the novelist Janet Leith Story nee Maughan.

Janet Story published seven novels with titles, Charley Nugent (1860), The St Aubyns of St Aubyn (1862), The Co-Heiress (1866), Richard Langdon or Foreshadowed, The Man of Mark, Kitty Fisher the Orange Girl (1881) and Equal to Either Fortune. In 1911 at the age of 83 she published Early Reminiscences. This was followed in 1913 by Later Reminiscences.

Helen`s parents were married in Edinburgh on 31st October 1863. Their first child, a son, died a few hours after birth. Helen`s sister, Elizabeth Maria Margaret Arnott Story (Elma) was born in Edinburgh on 17th September 1866.4

Robert and Janet
Figure 3. Robert and Janet Story
Helen Janet Elma
Figure 4. Helen, Janet and Elma Story about 1872. Figs. 3 and 4 from: Story, J. L., Early Reminiscences, James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1911

Helen and Elma’s early years were spent in almost unbroken happiness in our beloved Rosneath`. Their grandmother lived close-by and ‘my little girls went daily to see her until she died in 1882’. 5 In the Census of 1881 Helen was a “scholar”, aged 9 living at Rosneath Manse with her parents and sister. 6

Rosneath
Figure 5. Rosneath Village late 1800s. From:Story, J. L., Later Reminiscences,  James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1913

However, in 1886 Robert Story was appointed Professor of Church History in the University of Glasgow and the following year the family moved to Number 8, The College, Glasgow. ‘Having been appointed to the chair of Church History in the University of Glasgow, Dr. Story had reluctantly to resign the parish of Rosneath, and took leave of the congregation to whom he had so long ministered on Sunday 5th June 1887’. 7

At the 1891 Census, Helen, aged 19 and her father, were visitors at Barshimming Mansion House, Stair, Ayrshire. She gave her occupation as “professor`s daughter”. Her mother and Elma were at home at Number 8, The University. In her twenties, Helen became interested in trying to alleviate the causes of social deprivation.

“There is no record of the origin and growth of her devotion to the cause of Social Service, but it became her life work and her abiding memorial”.8

In 1897, she was one of the women involved in the founding of the “Queen Margaret College Settlement”. The Settlement,

was founded by a group of pioneering women in 1897. They had struggled  for the right to access Higher Education and, having achieved this against much opposition, they felt a commitment to others whose needs were often disregarded. The basic idea was simple: young people from the University should move into areas of deprivation to live with the poor and by this means, share in their lives and provide practical support through personal contact. Based first in Anderston (opened 1901) and later in Drumchapel, Settlement Volunteers were pioneers in many areas of    social work throughout the 20th century. They provided legal and welfare advice, they set up credit unions and after-school clubs. From these beginnings developed: Legal Aid, The Citizens Advice Bureau, Savings Banks and a multitude of self-help groups”. 9

In 1898 Robert Story was appointed Principal of the University and the family again moved this time to the Principal`s House at Number 13, The College. The move seems to have been made reluctantly. Janet Story wrote that ‘very cosy and contented we were for eleven years in our happy home at No. 8, The College’. 10 In the 1901 Census, Helen, aged 29, was living with her parents and Elma at this address.

Drawing Room
Figure 6. The drawing room at Number 11, The College when Helen lived there. From: Story, J. L., Later Reminiscences,  James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1913

Helen continued to be involved in social work and in 1903 wrote that,

“One of the most practical phases of modern social and philanthropic work is the formation of settlements in the poorer parts of the city where workers (can) learn how best to take a share in helping (their neighbours) overcome their difficulties”. 11

From 1906 she was a member of the Joint Committee which created the Glasgow School of Social Study and Training. Other members were the Misses, M.G. May, Galloway, Younger, Snodgrass, E.S. Stevenson, Brown, Redie, Gairdner and Marwick. In 1908 she became Convener of the Committee and in 1912, when the school was established she became its ‘long-time secretary’:

“all others proclaim her as the mainspring and continuing force in the creation, the building and the development of the Glasgow School of Social Study and Training”.12

The Reverend Robert Story died at home on 13th January 1907 and was buried in Rosneath Churchyard. 13, 14 His death meant that the family had to vacate the Principal`s House and they moved to 30 Lilybank Gardens, Hillhead. 15 Helen and Elma wrote a biography of their father which was published in 1909.16 A copy signed by Elma is in the Mitchell Library.

In the 1911 Census, Helen, aged 39, was a visitor at Newtondee House, Cults, Aberdeenshire. (It may be a coincidence but today Newton Dee is a Camphill Community in Aberdeen.  It offers a home, meaningful work and opportunities for personal development to adults with learning disabilities and other special needs).

The three women continued to live at 30 Lilybank Gardens, Hillhead, until Janet Story died aged 98 on 11th of September 1926. 17 Thereafter, the sisters moved to 21 Ashton Road. 18

Helen became a Governor of the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science in 1931 and held this post for eleven years latterly becoming Convener of the Cookery Committee. The College Minutes recorded that ‘she has done much to maintain the high standards of the work of the College’.19

From 1932 to 1935 she was Vice-President of the Scottish Section of the Workers` Educational Association (WEA). In an address to the WEA she drew attention to the wide range of social services that now existed.

“When I came to Glasgow in 1887 these services were practically non-existent. There was no workmen`s compensation, no Health Insurance, no Old Age Pension, no Widows` pensions, no Unemployment Insurance, very little Health Service apart from the Hospitals or Child Welfare. It must be very difficult for anyone born in this century to realize what a revolution has come about in these ways in the course of little more than a generation, and what an easing of the burdens of life has resulted”.20

On 21st June, 1939 Helen Story was awarded an Honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Glasgow. The citation for the award was as follows:

“Miss Helen Story is joint-authoress of a full and sympathetic life of her father – a former Principal of this University. Her chief work, however, has been in the study of the social problems of a great city, such as this, and she has contributed by thought and effort towards the solution of them. Thus, she has taken part in the management of the Queen Margaret Settlement since its foundation; in the work of the collecting Savings Banks; in the care of soldiers` dependents during the war; in the provision of training for Women and in the direction of the College of Domestic Science. From the beginning of these activities, Miss Story recognized that an improvement in social conditions depended on increase in knowledge of them, and in the application of that knowledge when obtained. With this ideal before her, she had a large part in the founding of the School of Social Study and Training, of which she has been the indefatigable and tactful Secretary since 1912”.21,22

Helen Story LLD
Figure 7. Helen`s Story`s signature on Hon. Ll. D. roll. Glasgow University Archives, Album of Honorary Doctorates, 1939.

Sig on page from Hon LLD Record

On 29th May, 1941, Helen`s sister Elma died and was buried at Rosneath.  Helen caused to be cut into the gravestone ‘There is no friend like a sister In calm or stormy weather’.

It is likely that Helen gifted the watercolours as a memorial to her sister. Elma was a talented artist who had exhibited at the RSA from 1898 till 1934.

On the  21st August 1941 Helen Story died of colon cancer at her home 21, Ashton Road.23 Her funeral service was held at the University Chapel on Tuesday, 24th after which she was buried at Rosneath. 24

In his memoir written after her death G. E. R. Young wrote that

‘Her sense of humour ….. was one of rare quality. A story …..of Anderston or Port St., retailed by Helen was enriched and scintillated in the telling. And who among her friends will forget when moments of disaster arrived or things went wrong, that quiet, detached, dispassionate “Damnity, Damn!!’. 25

References

  1. Minutes of the Corporation of Glasgow C1/3/105, p 946, Minute of Committee on Art Galleries and Museums, 17th March 1942.
  2. Scotland`s People, Birth Certificate
  3. Bayne, T. W. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, revised by A. T. B. McGowan
  4. Scotland`s People, Birth Certificate
  5. Story, J. L., Later Reminiscences,  James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1913
  6. ancestry.co.uk, Scotland Census 1881
  7. https://electricscotland.com/bible/Memoir-of-Robert-Herbert-Story-by-His-Daughters.pdf
  8. Young, G. E. R. Elma and Helen Story, A Recollection, 1948. (A copy of this pamphlet is held in the Glasgow University Archives).
  9. http://www.src.gla.ac.uk/volunteer/settlement/history/‎
  10. Story, J. L., Later Reminiscences. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1913
  11. Young, G. E. R., Elma and Helen Story, A Recollection, 1948.
  12. Ibid
  13. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  14. Bayne, T. W., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, revised by A. T. B. McGowan
  15. Glasgow Post Office Directories 1908-9
  16. Principal Story, A Memoir By His Daughters, Glasgow, James MacLehose and Sons, 1909
  17. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  18. Glasgow Voters` Rolls, 1926
  19. Young, G. E. R., Elma and Helen Story, A Recollection, 1948.
  20. ibid
  21. ibid
  22. ibid
  23. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  24. Glasgow Herald, 22 August 1942, Death Notices.
  25. Young, G. E. R. Elma and Helen Story, A Recollection, 1948.

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