Discovering Dorothy Doddrell

In this post we’ll hear from Jessie Campbell about her work on the papers of Dorothy Doddrell. Jessie is a 3rd year undergraduate History of Art student from Glasgow University who has been undertaking a work placement with GSA’s Archives and Collections over the last few months.

For almost a century, The Glasgow School of Art First World War Roll of Honour has been at the heart of campus, finding homes in the Mackintosh and Reid Buildings. While the Roll of Honour tells the story of the staff and students who gave their time – and often their lives – to the war effort in Europe, often little is known about its creator, Dorothy Doddrell.

Hailing from Glasgow, Doddrell was born in 1894, and lived in Blythswood Drive during her early years and studies. She enrolled at The Glasgow School of Art in 1912 for drawing and painting. However, her life would have profoundly changed with the outbreak of the First World War. With many of the male students – and even some female students – departing Glasgow to assume new roles on the Western Front, her studies at GSA would have shifted also. Many of the students left would have been women, and Doddrell is evidence of the significant part they played in the war effort. In January 1915, she is recorded to have helped organise the Belgian Tryst, a two-day student-run event including music, shows and exhibitions in aid of Belgians impacted by the war. It was during this year that she embarked upon design classes, and subsequently, was selected to create The Glasgow School of Art’s First World War Roll of Honour. Doddrell’s selection for this design is testament to her artistic achievement, but came at a pivotal time for women. Before the war, the fight for female suffrage was reaching a climax, and while war subdued the political fight, the shift to female labour during the war was noticeable. The selection to design GSA’s Roll of Honour can be considered a huge accomplishment, and is testament to increasingly progressive values at the advent of war.

Gold text, illuminated in a decorative style. Text reads: Roll of Honour, Glasgow School of Art Members of the Staff & Students Who Served with the Allied Armies During the European War
Dorothy Doddrell, Print of the illuminated heading for the First World War Roll of Honour of The Glasgow School of Art, 1925

GSA’s Roll of Honour is a copper and wood framed triptych, with intricate designs and calligraphy created and executed by Doddrell. It is different from other Rolls of Honour, listing not only those who died, but any staff or student that served, alongside their regiment. Significantly, it also includes twelve women, all of whom served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). The Roll of Honour wasn’t made until 1925; while there is some lack of clarity surrounding this, it can be attributed to funding issues, and the gathering of information in the tumultuous wake of the war. Despite the time taken, the Roll of Honour is still generally considered incomplete, which inspired The Glasgow School of Art Roll of Honour project in 2016. A group of volunteers researched the memorial, investigating the personal stories to verify the accuracy of the Roll of Honour. Doddrell’s work continues to be of interest, providing a starting point for later works. For the centenary of the First World War, The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections worked to create a memorial for those that served on the home front, describing this new memorial as a ‘partnership piece’ to Doddrell’s 1925 original piece. In addition to The Glasgow School of Art Roll of Honour, Doddrell also worked within the wider Glasgow community, creating similar pieces for the Busby West United Free Church and the Stevenson Memorial Church.

Doddrell’s collection of work is wider than her Roll of Honour designs. Her deposited collection shows a deeply engaged artist who appears committed to expanding her craft. In her time at GSA from 1912-1919 and 1922-24, she undertook classes in design, life drawing, painting, and etching. While cataloguing the material, I was able to build a picture of a young artist committed to her craft, with experiments in calligraphy and paint, and life drawings completed with an intricate sensitivity to detail. The collection includes some of her student work at GSA, tracing her artistic development. However, there are also wider artistic explorations, including both personal and commercial pieces. Doddrell appears to have a working connection with Pettigrew and Stephens Ltd, a department store which was based on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street.

A cover page from a brochure, featuring an image of the department store Pettigrew and Stephens, and an image of a woman in a flowing coat and veiled hat looking over her shoulder as she leans against a pillar garlanded with flowers, looking out onto a landscape of rolling hills
Dorothy Doddrell, Pettigrew & Stephens Ltd. brochure, 1919-1920.

She created brochures for them in 1920-21. Her collection also includes a vast range of reference materials, which show her inspirations and influences. These include works by Robert Anning Bell, who was a member of teaching staff at The Glasgow School of Art from 1911 to 1933. These reference pieces are helpful for situating her work in context, allowing us to see the inspirations for her design and aesthetic process. Doddrell’s commitment to her work resulted in her being highly commended, listed for the 1918-19 Design Calendar Prize Winners for her Roll of Honour design. She also received the Design and Decorative Art Minor travelling bursary, for £8 6s, around £500 in today’s money.

The catalogue and a sample of images of material from the collection are available to view on GSA’s online catalogue here.

Cataloguing Doddrell’s work was a massively rewarding experience; it is a hugely important part of The Glasgow School of Art’s history. I hope it continues to be of use to people, and brings as much joy as it did for me.