In 1661 she married Robert Kennedy, a lawyer, and by him had a daughter, Euphemia, in 1664. Sadly this daughter died in 1669, and two years later Mary Erskine lost her husband.
Her life then was not without
pain and sorrow. However, she was a
woman of exceptional strength of character, and, having been left a substantial
sum by her husband, she set up in business trading in merchandise. More than four years after Robert Kennedy's
death she married again, this time an apothecary, or pharmacist, called James
Hair. This marriage too was short-lived
and James Hair died in 1683, leaving her burdened with considerable debts.
However, she was clearly a very astute and enterprising businesswoman, because, by 1688, she had, by sound management of her own affairs, paid off her husband's debts, and was well on the way to accumulating a substantial fortune by dealing in property, and from the income of a number of booths, or shops, that she owned in the High Street.
Although she was not a member of the Merchant Company, nonetheless she dealt with the merchants of the city on equal terms, and was highly respected by them. In the early 1690's the Merchant Company, incorporated as recently as 1681, and from the outset much involved in charitable works, was considering ways of establishing a hospital or boarding school for the daughters of Merchants.
Mary Erskine, through her contacts with the merchants, took a lively personal interest in this project and in 1694 made over 10,000 merks Scots, i.e. about £670 sterling, a huge sum in those days, to the Master, Assistants and Treasurer of the Merchant Company of this City, "to be by them, employed and expended for maintaining and educating at bed, board and schools and clothing of young children of the female sex of merchant burgesses of Edinburgh".
With this handsome endowment (others were to follow) the merchants went ahead with their plans for the Maiden Hospital, and the first girls were received in what was in fact the Merchants' Hall in the Cowgate in 1696.
The Merchant Maiden Hospital has changed its location and its name a number of times, but whether it was the Maiden Hospital or the Edinburgh Educational Institution for Young Ladies, or the Edinburgh Ladies' College, or the Mary Erskine School for Girls, it continued to combine the charitable purpose and the educational vision of its founders, Mary Erskine and the Company of Merchants of the City of Edinburgh.
It is their wisdom and devotion that we commemorate today, at the same time remembering with gratitude all those merchants, former pupils, staff and parents who have over the years added to the School's endowments, and have contributed by their loyalty and industry to the School's great tradition of learning and service.