Sue Young Histories

Isabella Fyvie Mayo 1843 - 1914

October 23, 2009

Isabella Fyvie Mayo 1843 -
1914Isabella Fyvie Mayo 1843 - 1914 was a Scottish poet, and novelist who also wrote under the pen name Edward Garrett.

Isabella Fyvie Mayo worked for John Rutherford Russell, and she knew Bessie Rayner Parkes,

Isabella Fyvie Mayo worked at the Office for the Employment of Women, she began to write, she also worked as a Legal copyist, eventually becoming self employed. As Edward Garrett, she became a widely published poetess and author, and she also became a speaker on liberal causes, particularly on the themes of religion, pacifism and animal welfare

Isabella Fyvie Mayo explains in Recollections of Fifty Years:

I afterwards had an engagement to copy out minutes of certain medical societies for John Rutherford Russell, the well known homeopath.

I went daily to his house for about a fortnight, staying there from ten till five.  He was always gentle and kind, and I did my work in a pleasant, quiet upper chamber, sparsely furnished, and overlooking a pleasant garden—an ideal workroom.

I saw three daughters of the house, one of whom was singularly sweet and attractive.  Mrs. Russell had much conversation with me.  She told me that several ladies had refused to do the doctor’s copying on the score that the medical matters were indecent.

I never gave her any hint of my literary ambitions, and she expressed dismay at my giving myself up to a kind of work which, as she justly said, had no sound prospects.  She urged emigration on me, and I listened and assented to her remarks, for I knew they were both wise and kind.

I had my own reasons why I could not entertain her advice, but I kept my own counsel with a strange reserve, and I dare say she thought me as obdurate as foolish.

Born as the youngest child of Scottish parentage in London in 1843, Isabella was privately educated at a girl’s school near Covent Garden. With the help of friends she published poems and stories, using the pseudonym Edward Garrett.

In 1870 Isabella married John Ryall Mayo, a solicitor, who died in 1877, leaving her with one son. She spend most of her life living in Aberdeen. In Aberdeen, she was the first woman elected to a public board.

She died on May 3, 1914, of cancer.

In 1851 her father died.  George Fyvie had owned a successful bakery, but following his death the business went into decline: “for this startling reverse there were several causes.  The environment had changed; residents had gone off to suburbs.

My mother had little business acumen or enterprise, and could not adapt herself to new conditions.”   The executor of her father’s estate “proved a broken reed.  He took no interest, gave no advice.  He knew how to prosper financially himself, but he never helped anybody else to prosperity.”

The outcome was that the family fell heavily into debt and while still a girl ?  who had enjoyed a comfortable, Victorian, middle-class upbringing ? Isabella was obliged to seek a living as best she could.

“My life-and-death fight for bread and independence” was to last from 1860 to 1869, but the family debts were repaid eventually and in the process Isabella acquired “a mass of knowledge, both of facts and different ways of looking at them, and of human nature generally” ? life’s greatest lessons are taught outside the classroom.


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