Anna Morton Geddes 1857–1917

Anna Geddes

Photograph of Patrick and Anna Geddes, undated
Reproduced by kind permission of The Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

Music teacher, soulmate and partner in Patrick Geddes' projects

It can often be said that behind every good man is an equally good woman and this is evidenced in the personal and working relationship of Anna and Patrick Geddes. From correspondence of the time it is clear that theirs was a partnership of equals and Patrick himself acknowledged her calm, steadying influence throughout their life together.

Anna was born on 19th November, the fourth of six children born to Frazer Morton and his wife. He was an Ulster Scot and prosperous merchant who had settled in Liverpool. Although Anna and her siblings had a strict Presbyterian upbringing, music was encouraged and on finishing boarding school her parents sent her to Dresden to study singing and piano for a year. She later became a music teacher.

She developed a strong interest in the pioneer work of Octavia Hill, Josephine Butler and others to reform the social conditions and housing for the poor. In 1883 she visited her younger sister Edith and her husband James Oliphant, the head of a private school in Edinburgh and it was there she met his friend and colleague Patrick Geddes. Anna and Patrick shared an interest in social reform and over the next three years their friendship developed, and they married in 1886.

From the beginning Anna was a passionate supporter of Patrick's work. They started married life in a flat in Edinburgh's Princes Street, moving later to James' Court, a run-down tenement in the Lawnmarket, where they set about improving the social environment by example. It was there that Anna bore the first of their children - Norah, followed by Alasdair and Arthur.

Over the years they travelled extensively on his various projects and it was during a second visit to India in 1917 that Anna fell ill with typhoid fever and died, not knowing that their son Alasdair had been killed in action in France. She was cremated in India.

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