Miss Mary Ann Baxter
Regarded as Dundee's foremost female philanthropist, Mary Ann Baxter, in 1883, was the principal benefactress of University College, Dundee. In 1863, she, with her brother and sister, donated Baxter Park to the city and contributed generously to many local and national causes.
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Personal details and history
Mary Ann Baxter
Place of birth
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Place of death:
Ellengowan, 104 Ferry Road, Dundee
Date of death:
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Congregational Church of Scotland
Clubs / societies
Mary Ann Baxter was a founder member of the Congregational Ward Chapel and used her private fortune to support the work of the Congregational Mission in Hilltown, the YMCA and the Sailors' Hall, amongst many other local charities.
Subscriber 4 – George Armitstead – husband of Mary Ann Baxter’s niece Jane E Baxter
Subscriber 18 – Edward Baxter, Esq., of Kincaldrum – brother
Subscriber 22 – John Boyd Baxter – a second cousin of Mary Ann Baxter
Subscriber 23 – Miss Eleanor Baxter of Balgavies – sister
Subscriber 29 – Sir David Baxter, Bart. of Kilmaron – brother
Subscriber 35 – W. E. Baxter, Esq., M.P, Ashcliffe – nephew
Subscriber 57 – William Collier – a cousin of Mary Ann Baxter
Subscriber 222 – Shiell & Small – David Small was a cousin of Mary Ann Baxter
Subscriber 230 – Robert Small – a cousin of Mary Ann Baxter
Subscriber 231 – William Small – a cousin of Mary Ann Baxter
Subscriber 238 – Anthony Trail – husband of Mary Ann Baxter’s cousin Agnes Collier
Career and worklife
Place of work
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Mary Ann Baxter (1801-1884) was the seventh of the eight children born to William Baxter (1767-1854) and Elizabeth Gorrell (1763-84). She was named after her maternal aunts, Mary and Ann Gorrel. Her siblings were Eleanor (1788-1868); Edward (1791-1871); David (1793-1872); Margaret (1794-1845); John Gorrell (1796-1853); William Gorrell (1798-1852) and Elizabeth (1802-1883). Her father opened a flax mill at Lower Dens Works in Dundee in 1822, operating as William Baxter and Sons (later Baxter Brothers). The steam powered, large scale manufacture of linen was the foundation of the Baxter family fortune, under the leadership of Mary Ann’s brother David.
As an unmarried daughter of a wealthy middle class family, for the most part Mary Ann lived privately at home, though she was known to have liberal views on religion. She was a founder member and generous donor to the Congregational Ward Chapel, Dundee and funded the opening of the Congregational Theological Hall in Edinburgh. She was a benefactress to the London Missionary Society, which she favoured for their un-denominational policy and to many other home and overseas missions and private causes.
Mary Ann’s first noteworthy involvement with civic life in Dundee was in 1861-3 when she, together with her brother David and eldest sister, Eleanor Baxter, gifted Baxter Park to the city. The Baxters donated 36 acres for a public park, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, intended to provide mill workers with a green space for recreation in the industrial city. The opening of Baxter Park on 9 September 1863, by Earl Russell, was a grand civic ceremony, with workers’ processions, presentation of the Baxter Deed of Gift and the unveiling of a statue of the newly knighted Sir David Baxter. An estimated 70-80,000 Dundonians attended the opening (roughly three quarters of the population) and the Dundee Advertiser recorded the generosity of Sir David and ‘the Misses Baxters, his kind-hearted sisters.‘
Mary Ann Baxter, described as a ‘clever and far seeing lady,’ outlived all her siblings and eventually succeeded to the family estate of Balgavies, amassing a considerable private fortune. From the mid 1870s, the success of university extension colleges in England stimulated local demand for university education in Dundee, now a major industrial city. The campaign was led by Mary Ann’s relative, Dr John Boyd Baxter and, in 1880, it was announced that Miss Baxter would head the subscription list, providing the necessary financial backing for a university college. Mary Ann contributed the major funding of £130, 000, Boyd Baxter contributing £10,000. This was said to enable Mary Ann to realise her ‘noble ambition of embellishing her native town and promoting the cause of higher education.’ In 1881, the Baxters endowed University College, Dundee to provide for ‘the education for persons of both sexes and the study of science, literature and fine arts,’ and it opened on 5 October 1883, inaugurating higher education in Dundee – the forerunner of the modern University of Dundee.
Mary Ann died on 19 December 1884, with obituaries in the Scottish press recording her many philanthropic contributions and her reputation as a ‘considerate, sympathetic and helpful friend’ to charities and individuals alike.
Mary Ann Baxter left over £300,000 in her will, which confirmed her private generosity and sense of public duty in the long lists of legacies and bequests.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. (1801). 282/ 80 473. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Courier. 23 December 1884. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1884). 282/4 1047. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Post Office Directory, 1864-65. p.96. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Post Office Directory, 1867-8. p.98. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- MS 'Genealogy of Baxter Family.' (1863). Lamb Collection. LC377(4). Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Cooke, Anthony J. (1980). Baxters of Dundee. pp.16-18. Dundee. University of Dundee.
- Congregational Roll Book. (1849-66). Ward Chapel, Dundee. CH14/4/35. Dundee City Archives.
- Baxter, Kenneth. (2011). 'Mary Ann Baxter: Philanthropist and Founder of University College, Dundee.' in Ten Taysiders. pp.31-6. Dundee. Abertay Historical Society.
- 'Address and Acknowledgement to Sir David and the Misses Baxters'. 28 October 1863. Minute Book 1 of the Baxter Park Trustees. p.326. University of Dundee Archives.
- Miskell, Louise, Whatley, Christopher A and Harris, Bob. (2000). Victorian Dundee: Image and Reality. pp.78-9. East Linton. Tuckwell Press.
- Shafe, Michael. (1982). University Education in Dundee. Dundee. University of Dundee. pp.8-13; Dundee Year Book (1883), Appendix, pp.55-97. Dundee. John Leng and Co.
- Dundee Obituary Book 1. pp.15-18. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Baxter, Kenneth. (2011). Ten Taysiders. p.35. Dundee. Abertay Historical Society.
- Dundee Obituary Book 1; Dundee Year Book. (1884). Dundee. John Leng and Co. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
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