Christina Kay lived from 11 June 1878 to 23 May 1951. She was an Edinburgh schoolteacher who became the model for the main character in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Christina Kay was the daughter of Alexander Kay, a cabinetmaker, and Mary MacDonald. She attended James Gillespie's School for Girls in Edinburgh, and from 1897 she spent two years training to be a teacher at the Church of Scotland College, also in Edinburgh. She was born and brought up in the family home at 4 Grindlay Street, and lived there throughout her life, caring for her mother until the latter's death in 1913. She remained unmarried and her pupils later formed the view that she was one of that generation of young women who lost fiances during the First World War.
Having been a pupil at James Gillespie's School, Christina returned there to teach, becoming, in the eyes of many of her pupils, an inspirational teacher. In the 1929-30 academic year her class included a young Muriel Camberg, who was later to become better known under her married name, Muriel Spark. Christina Kay was later described by Muriel Spark as "a character in search of an author", and Spark drew heavily on her style and her teaching methods in constructing the character of Miss Jean Brodie in the 1961 novella that established Spark as a major author and which has since been turned into a film (in 1969) and a TV series (in 1978).
A shy and private person, Christina Kay would probably have been appalled by the posthumous fame she received after the publication of Spark's book. Her retirement in 1942 came as a surprise to the girls at her school, as she had kept it to herself. She died in 1951, and was buried in the churchyard of Abercorn Church, to the west of Edinburgh.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".