Papers of Kay Carmichael, 1925-2009, policy advisor, activist and lecturer, University of Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Personal papers, 1955-2009;
  • Kay's writing and related papers, 1977-2010;
  • Research notes, including press cuttings, article reprints, 1958-2011;
  • Pamphlets, c1880-2000s;
  • Photographs, c1950-2008;
  • Audio cassette tapes, late 20th century-2000s.

Administrative / Biographical History

Catherine 'Kay' MacIntosh Carmichael (nee Rankin) was a social reformer and policy adviser who was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Study (later the Department of Social Work and Social Administration). She was responsible for developing the UK's first training programme for probation officers.

Born in Glasgow's east end in 1925, she experienced a difficult childhood, partly due to her parents' fragile marriage and partly also to her contracting polio, which resulted in her spending a long period in hospital and only gradually recovering the use of her limbs. This left her with a slight disability which was well disguised, but the effects remained with her in later life. A harsh convent school education had the saving grace that it encouraged her to become an avid reader. Wartime evacuation to Dumfries provided relief before a return to Glasgow and somewhat irregular schooling, which was supplemented by visits to the Tollcross public library and a voracious reading programme.

She gained a social work diploma from Edinburgh University and became a psychiatric social worker in the late 1950s, working with inmates and wardens in prisons and borstals in an attempt to reassess the conditions there and try to put policies in place to offer help and rehabilitation to offenders.

She was appointed a Social casework tutor at the University's School of Social study in 1963 becoming a lecturer in 1967, a senior lecturer in 1974 and an honorary lecturer in 1981. She was a well respected and influential teacher who inspired her students by her determination to fight for social justice.

She was an active member of the Labour Party for around 50 years and spent a lot of her time campaigning for the rights of minority groups and against nuclear war and weapons. Having married Neil Carmichael, Glasgow Labour MP in 1948, the marriage was later dissolved and she married Professor David Donnison in 1987.

When Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party in 1994 she resigned her membership and latterly, after a spell in the Scottish Socialist Party, she became an active member of the Scottish National Party.

She graduated with a PhD from Glasgow in 2001 when she was 76 years old. Her thesis was titled 'A Post-Christian Perception of Sin and Forgiveness'. She died on 26 December 2009.


Listed by box.

After Kay's death she left behind various box files to her husband David. These files generally contain short notes, longer recollections and reflections, articles for newspapers and magazines, drafts for speeches and lectures, and lots of poems. Before Kay's death she shredded many papers, so we can assume that she was comfortable with others having access to these papers after she died.

In some of the box files David has written a summary of the contents (this is indicated in the box list), however this is not always the case. The name that is written on the box file is listed in the box list, but this does not necessarily indicate the contents of the box file and is included to help the user identify the relevant box file.

A significant percentage of this collection consists of newspapers clippings, internet print offs, collected quotes and research notes by Kay. These notes formed the basis of her 2001 thesis 'A Post-Christian Perception of Sin and Forgiveness', which later developed in to a book entitled 'Sin and Forgiveness: New Responses in a Changing World' (2003).

There are also many research notes which formed the basis of her book 'Ceremony of Innocence: Tears, Power and Protest' (1991). Many of her research notes were undated, so where possible they have been given circa dates based on the content of the notes and which piece of Kay's work it could be related to.

Numerous untitled and undated reflections on Kay's childhood are also present within the box files. One can assume that they were drafts of her memoirs (noted in the box list as 'draft writings'). David has compiled and edited these writings into a Kay Carmichael reader which is to be published.

Access Information

Open, subject to the  Data Protection Act 1998

Acquisition Information

Gift : David Donnison : 3 Aug 2017 : ACCN 4115

Other Finding Aids

Box list available on application to the Duty Archivist

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the  Duty Archivist

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has not yet been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

The collection was held by Kay Carmichael and following her death ownership was passed on to David Donnison and Kay's daughter.


None expected

Related Material

Kay's University of Glasgow PhD thesis is available online:

Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds level description compiled by Emma Yan, Assistant Archivist, 30 October 2017.

Geographical Names