The Queen Margaret Union was founded in 1890 by women, for women. The Union started in the basement of what was the Queen Margaret College as a social club for the women who studied there. For a number of years the membership’s main activities included drinking tea and eating strawberries while discussing their education.
Following the equality revolution heralded by The Great War’s reliance on women at home, the Queen Margaret College was merged with the University of Glasgow. Female students began to mix with their male counterparts and the Union’s range of activities expanded – dances became popular and the Union’s reputation began to grow across campus. After several changes in venue, the Union moved to the John MacIntyre Building, the former home of Glasgow University Union, then known as the Men’s Union. Debating became an increasingly prominent activity and many Union members were highly regarded by the University debating circuit.
As the Second World War began and the majority of male scholars went to fight, women became the dominant force on campus. In the true spirit of the Queen Margaret Union they kept the Union running throughout. Dances and debates were more important than ever before – offering a chance to discuss key issues and providing a relief from the stresses of the tense wartime atmosphere. The 1950s brought about another change on campus due to the huge numbers of men returning to finish their studies – an increase in diversity on campus gave the Union a more prominent role and strengthened the relationship between the Union and its members.
The Union embraced the 1960s and the still all-female membership began working on what would be a monumental change for the Union – a bigger venue was needed. The Board of Management’s ambitious plans saw the creation of a purpose-built building at 22 University Gardens. The so-called ‘New Union’ opened in 1967 and the QM remains there today, although it has changed significantly over time; when the building opened, it didn’t contain a single bar. As the ‘winds of change’ continued to sweep through the world in the 1970s, the Queen Margaret Union sought to change the culture of Glasgow’s unions. After nearly a decade of persuasion, the membership voted in favour of allowing men to join the Union in 1979. Down the hill, Glasgow University Union took a little more persuading, following suit in 1980.
It was around this time when the Union’s musical identity really began to take off – music had always been paramount to the culture of the Union, but now huge bands stormed the stage and opened up new avenues of entertainment for the membership. Over the decades groups such as Queen, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and innumerable other acts have graced the stage at the Queen Margaret Union.
Every good story has its dark days, and 1989 proved to be the Queen Margaret Union’s. After a decade of financial instability, rumours of closure worried the Board of Management and the staff. Thankfully the Union weathered the crisis and, thanks to the hard work of the Board, staff and membership, ensured the Union could continue to operate. Since then the Union has continued to prosper at the heart of the University. Its history is unique and diverse, and it has achieved great things through its struggles to become the Queen Margaret Union we know and love.