Men of achievement dominate our section on the people of Heriot Row. It's not hard to trace their honours and their contributions to Scottish life and beyond. In the last hundred years, women's lives and careers have become much more like men's. But for past times, we have to dig a bit deeper to find out what the women were up to.

Victorian census returns show us that women were often heads of households - sometimes as widows, sometimes as single women. Such households could include adult males who were being supported by women. The 1881 census return for the eastern section of Heriot Row shows that, out of 21 properties, nine had female heads of household while one other property listed joint heads (brother and sister). Though the female household heads were typically in their fifties to seventies, Jane Berwick at Number 14 was 25 and monied: her next-door neighbour Jane Mackintosh at Number 15 was 37 and headed a household of eleven. Research for a similar area of Glasgow suggests that - in spite of property laws that favoured men - women were significant investors in land and business. Census data probably underestimate their earned income, for example from lodgers.

We have some glimpses of the careers women followed. No 19 housed a milliners' business - five milliners and several apprentices. Janet Mackenzie at No 41 managed a lace emporium in George Street. Elizabeth Grant and Jemima Blackburn were children when they lived in the street but in adulthood both played a significant part in the family finances - Elizabeth in the management of her husband's Irish estate and Jemima through her illustrations and children's books. Isabella Mackenzie became a governess and companion to a London family and later taught music.

The Glasgow research also suggests that Victorian women had more independence in their social lives than commonly thought. Philanthropy, religion, public education and the arts were all areas where women participated as volunteers, supporters and consumers. 'Civic roles were confined largely to men for most of the [Victorian] period, although women through temperance and suffrage activity played a political role and were particularly conspicuous in philanthropic and religious organisations.'

Elizabeth, Jemima and Isabella travelled extensively and not necessarily with their husband or another male relative. Jemima, while a loving wife, clocked up an amazing number of friendships with famous men that lasted well into middle age.

These were middle class women. Heriot Row also housed many women cooks and maidservants. Most were in their 20s and 30s. In Heriot Row East alone, the 1881 census shows that the 62 live-in servants came from most parts of Scotland. Some were local to Edinburgh and the Lothians (Linlithgow, Ratho, Calder, Borthwick, Haddington and Pencaitland), some from the Borders (Chirnside, Jedburgh and Berwick), some from Fife, Stirling and Perthshire (Kinghorn, Burntisland, Kilconquhar, Blackford, Fortingall, Comrie and Stirling), some from the west (Lanark, Tarbert, Rutherglen and Rannoch), some from the north east (Alyth, Forfar, Brechin, Nairn, Cullen, Elgin, Cawdor, Inverurie and Aberdeen), some from the northern highlands and islands (Golspie, Wick, Thurso and Lerwick). One came from Ireland and another from New Brunswick.

With fires to light and water to carry up and down three or four storeys, the typical maid's work day was long and hard. Many left on marriage, but some spent decades in the same household. The average 1881 household employed three live-in servants, with a range of none to six. Non-resident coachmen, gardeners, tutors, and laundresses were also part of the domestic workforce. A few servants may have caught the eye of a son of the house and married into a higher class. The only example for Heriot Row we have found was Mary Ironside, a gardener's daughter who came to Number 41 from Haddington as a seamstress. She encountered scorn and hostility from the family when she married the oldest Mackenzie son, Alick, but then accompanied him on his own upward social climb towards a knighthood.

One current Heriot Row resident was interested to discover that one of his female ancestors had been in service in neighbouring Northumberland Street over a century ago.

For past times we have to dig a bit deeper to find out what the women were up to