PIPE-SMOKING Rachel Hamilton, six feet four inches tall, and weighing 17 stone, worked as a labourer forewoman in Glasgow shipyards and brickworks, and later knocked a few heads together as a special constable during the Partick Riots of 1875 when Irish Home Rulers and Orangemen clashed on Dumbarton Road for three days.

Even by the eccentric standards of Glasgow's west end, she was an unusual woman.

Yet "Big Rachel" as she was inevitably known, is a piece of Partick history I had never heard of before, even though I once lived there. Which is the point Glasgow Women's Library is making in organising walking tours in the city to highlight the stories of Glasgow's inspiring women who have in the main been overlooked by the history books.

Anne, the guide on the West End Women's Heritage Walk, points out there are only three statues of actual woman in Glasgow - Queen Victoria in George Square, Dame Isabella Elder over in Govan and La Pasionaria, Spanish Civil War activist Dolores Ibarruri, down at the Clyde. So not really a cross-section of Glasgow's foremost females.

So can you name Glasgow's outstanding women? Even Glasgow City Council's own website struggles. It starts with its big three - football legend Sir Alex Ferguson, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and comedian Billy Connolly. There is then a list of folk famous in politics and the military. Nope. That's an all-male affair, although for a moment I did think Rosslyn Mitchell was a female until I discovered he was a male Liberal politician. Tobacco lords, aviators, detectives, again all male. There are even fictional characters listed, but they too are male. Sports then. Well, the usual male footballers, boxers and athletes feature, although finally a woman - swimmer Alison Sheppard. Even the council's list of famous journalists and broadcasters is an all-male affair. "Tiger" Tim Stevens - don't get me wrong, he's a decent cove - makes the list but no women. Scientists? No, don't even think about it.

So at the weekend I join the Women's Heritage Walk which starts at Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Can I just say how lovely, mad and riotous Kelvingrove Park is during the West End Festival. I'm looking for the heritage walk while colourful Indian dancers are heading for the Mela further in the park. Outside the art gallery an open-air country dance exhibition is being held with a caller urging people to take part. And seemingly oblivious to the organised mayhem around them, white-clad men and women are holding a croquet tournament.

We leave the crowds and stroll along Dumbarton Road where tour-guide Anne tells us about "Big Rachel" and the many mills on the River Kelvin at Partick which employed hundreds of women. A bus goes past, and Anne explains that Glasgow was the first city to hire female drivers and conductresses on the trams during World War One to replace the men who left to fight. They were demurely dressed in ankle-length skirts in Black Watch tartan with straw boaters on their heads.

Thousands of people poured into Glasgow to work during the war, but unscrupulous landlords put rents up by a fifth to take advantage of the demand. Women became politicised with Helen Crawfurd running the Glasgow Women's Housing Association which would rally support whenever women and children were being evicted for non-payment of rent.

The women would gather to bang pots and pans in the faces of the Sheriff's Officers, and pelt them with rubbish. The protests drew more people to the cause, until a massive demonstration in 1915 weaved through the city to the Sheriff Court. Weeks later the Rent Restriction Act was rushed through Parliament, limiting rent rises.

We turn up Byres Road to the University where women were not allowed to enrol for the first 400 years of its history. It was not until 1894 that Marion Gilchrist was the first women to graduate at Glasgow Uni with a degree in medicine.

Oh and remember, women couldn't actually vote at this time, which is why the Heritage Walk also recalls the prominent suffragettes from Glasgow, including Marion Dunlop, the first hunger striker in prison during the campaign for women's suffrage. There was even a bomb planted at the Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens which broke 27 panes of glass when detonated. It was adjudged to have been the work of a woman as the marks of high-heeled shoes were found in the soft earth beside the huge greenhouse.

We stop at the large black iron memorial gates at Glasgow University which has the names of prominent graduates picked out in gold lettering. "Which of them are women?" asks tour guide Anne. I scan the names. Kelvin, Watt, Adam Smith. These are the easy ones. But no, not women. Dewar and Smith, more recent politicians of course. Lushington? No idea. "Just one," says Anne and points to the right hand corner. Isabella Elder, the philanthropist. She's the one with the statue in Govan so quite an embarrassment of riches for Isabella. But that's it. Graduate Nicola Sturgeon is only Scotland's First Minister so no recognition for her as yet.

Around the corner on Kelvin Way is an oak tree with a little weather-worn plaque in front which I must have walked past hundreds of times without stopping to read. It was planted in 1918 to commemorate the granting of votes for women and the suffragettes who campaigned for such a simple right. The plaque could do with a polish as you need to do a lot of squinting to actually read it. The Golden Wonder crisp packet beside it, I suspect, is not part of the memorial.

So recognition for women in the testosterone city of football, shipyards and machismo is frankly underwhelming. Perhaps we need an invocation of Big Rachel to put her pipe down and knock a few heads in authority together to ensure we know a bit more about the women who helped fight injustice in Glasgow.