Sheila Runyon was born on a dairy farm 13 miles outside of Dumfries, a small town in Southwest Scotland. Her mother, Jessie Montgomery Turner, was a schoolteacher from Edinburgh who came to the country hunting for a job. She found that and more in Kirkcudbrightshire, where she met a farmer named Charles McCrae, whose family had been settling in the area for generations. “You couldn’t throw a stone in three counties without hitting someone who was connected to my family by marriage or some other way” (Interview). Charles and Jessie were married and moved to a farm called Straith in Dumfriesshire. They had four children together: Jean, Sheila, James, and David.
Like her sister before her, Sheila was something of an academic wunderkind. She began her education at four-years-old in a one-room elementary school called Crossford, where just under 20 students age five to eleven attended under a single teacher’s instruction. There was no question in Jessie’s mind that her daughters would be attending secondary school at Dumfries Academy, where only the best and brightest in the county had any hope of attendance. For this reason, academic achievement was a high priority in the McCrae household, even taking precedence over the general labor one typically associates with farm life.
The education system in Scotland during Shelia’s childhood was quite different from that with which we are currently familiar in the States. School for children began at age five as opposed to six and continued until age 12, known as primary school. Before graduating, each student would take the qualifying Exam, which would determine where they would pursue their secondary education and for how long. An individual’s success in the exam was “based on a number of factors, namely, the results of Intelligence tests, teachers’ estimates, an examination in English and Arithmetic, and the pupil’s previous record” (Mackintosh 153).
Those who scored highest were placed in senior secondary school, where they could continue their studies until age 18. The rest were placed in junior secondary school, concluding their education as early as age 15. On paper, this amounted to another four