Janet Black

(Janet Coats)

1844 - 1918

Philanthropist. Born in Paisley (Renfrewshire), one of eleven children of Thomas Coats (1809-83), the thread manufacturer, and raised at Ferguslie House. She lived there until she was forty, keeping the house for her father and playing the organ in the local Baptist church. In 1884, she married James Tait Black (1826 - 1911), son of the Edinburgh-based publisher Adam Black (1784 - 1874). He was a widower and the couple had met when Coats' younger brother began courting Black's daughter. They lived first in Edinburgh but soon moved to London, owing to her husband's business interests. They also spent time at Keswick in the English Lake District and wintered in Italy. After her husband died, and with no children, she began a programme of 'judicious philanthropy'.

She died in Keswick but was buried next to her husband in Alloway (South Ayrshire). Her will provided generously for women, lighthouse-keepers, libraries and hospitals. However, she is best known for founding the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, Britain's first literary prizes, which are managed by the University of Edinburgh. Black gifted the significant sum of £11,000 to fund them, to be held as shares in her father's company J. & P. Coats.

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