Students, Fellows, staff and alumni alike are celebrating at Somerville College today, as Mary Somerville, after whom the College is named, has been selected as the new face of the Scottish £10 banknote.
Last Monday, RBS put the decision in the hands of the public, who were asked to vote by liking photos on Facebook. The choice was between the astronomer and mathematician Mary Somerville, the physicist James Clerk Maxwell and the civil engineer Thomas Telford.
The members of Somerville College were overjoyed by the nomination, and took to social media to raise the profile of Mary Somerville. Principal, Dr Alice Prochaska, was invited to speak on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on the 4th of February. On the programme, Dr Prochaska commented:
“People really want Mary Somerville to be recognised. Both men and women at Somerville feel that the College’s ethos of inclusion, tolerance and broadmindedness are all qualities that we associate with Somerville and it’s very exciting to think that Mary Somerville, who stands for all of those things and much more, might be so publicly recognised.”
Actress Lesley Manville, who recently played the part of Mrs Somerville in 2014’s Mr Turner, emailed the College to say:
“At last this truly remarkable woman is getting the accolade she deserves. If only Mary could see that her legacy is strong and present in the 21st century. She would, typically, receive this honour with characteristic humility.”
Support also came from our alumni, including Cindy Gallop who was closely following the competition on social media:
“As an alumna of the college she gave her name to, I could not be more delighted that Mary Somerville will be featured on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s new 10 pound note. Separate to how thoroughly Mary Somerville earned this posthumous tribute by pioneering in a field women had to fight to pioneer in, the very fact that every day thousands of women, men, girls and boys will handle currency celebrating a female scientist, is a small but highly meaningful way of combating the ‘You cannot be what you cannot see’ lack of visible role models for women, and ensuring more gender-equal receptivity for female contributions to society.”
After a week of campaigning and voting, the results of the competition were uncertain – which left the College in a state of great suspense. Telford, who had been in last place throughout the competition, suddenly received more than 4,500 votes in the final hours and, at first glance, appeared to have won.
Mary Somerville, who had been in the lead for the majority of the campaign, came in second with 4,356 likes and James Clerk Maxwell accrued 2,123. Due to the irregularity of Telford’s votes, RBS decided to investigate and to postpone the announcement of the winner. They found that only 723 (14%) of his votes came from the UK, suggesting the votes were not genuine.
RBS announced Mary Somerville as the winner on Wednesday evening and explained why they chose Mary Somerville when Thomas Telford received the most Facebook likes.
“Mary Somerville was the clear leader throughout the week, steadily accumulating votes. We are confident that our choice of Mary Somerville properly reflects the genuine wishes of the public. The overwhelming majority of Mary Somerville’s votes came from the UK.”
Somerville College is overjoyed at the news and is currently deciding how best to celebrate this victory.
For more media coverage of the vote, please see: