Britains 1st Woman doctor qualifies
The 28th of September 1865 AD
In current times women undergraduates outnumber men in Britain’s medical schools, but in Elizabeth Garrett Anderson ’s day women were barred from the British medical profession. This daughter of a one-time pawnbroker turned successful businessman was the first to break through that ridiculous barrier, or rather find a way past it.
Elizabeth Garrett was educated to a high standard thanks to her wealthy and radical-minded parents. She was a proto-feminist from an early age, one legend having Elizabeth, her sister Milly, and family friend Emily Davies sitting by the fire when Elizabeth was 25, deciding to break the male monopoly on power by Elizabeth becoming a doctor, Emily a star of the educational world, and Milly a politician who would win the vote for women.
In 1859 Elizabeth met Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the USA. Fired by a belief she could do likewise Garrett followed her example. Refused entry to various medical schools Garrett became a nurse, but always with the intention of becoming a doctor. “I asked what there was to make doctoring more disgusting than nursing, which women were always doing, and which ladies had done publicly in the Crimea . He [her father Newson Garrett] could not tell me.
As a nurse she attended lectures for the student doctors until their complaints led to her being kept away. Undaunted she studied anatomy privately in London , and then received training from some of the more enlightened figures at St Andrews University and in Edinburgh .
The next step was sitting the necessary examinations to qualify, and it was again fraught with difficulty. Bodies that now think themselves liberal such as London University and The Royal College of Surgeons refused her. Eventually she discovered that by their laws as they then stood she could not be prevented from sitting the examinations of the Society of Apothecaries, which she passed in 1865, her name thus being entered on the medical register.
The Apothecaries changed their rules to prevent other women following her. Having qualified as an MD in France she returned to England and joined the British Medical Association in 1873, which like the Apothecaries then changed its rules to stop other women joining for almost 20 years more.
Unconventionally for the time Elizabeth continued her career after she married in 1871, establishing hospitals for women and rising in the profession in spite of continued resistance, and she is rightly revered still for her drive and passion to achieve her ambitions.
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