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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Posted February 27, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was an English physician and suffragette, the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon.

Her resume is pretty impressive. She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first female doctor of medicine in France, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain.

She was the second of eleven children, many of which went on to pursue many entrepreneurial projects and various business ventures.

As a child, there was no school in the town the family lived in. Anderson’s mother taught her the “three Rs.” When she and her sister were teens, they were sent to a boarding school. They learned many languages and reading skills, but Anderson complained later in life that the school lacked in science and math.

She spent the next nine years tending to domestic duties, but she continued to study Latin and arithmetic and also read a lot. In 1854, when she was eighteen, she and her sister went on a long visit to see friends in Gateshead where she met Emily Davies, the early feminist and future co-founder of Girton College, Cambridge. Davies became somewhat of a mentor to Anderson.

In 1858, she read about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American female doctor. When Blackwell visited the UK, a visit was arranged through the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. It is said that during a visit to Alde House around 1860, one evening while sitting by the fireside, Garrett and Davies selected careers for advancing the frontiers of women's rights.

She began her medical career as a nurse in August of 1860. She unsuccessfully attempted to enroll in the hospital's Medical School but was allowed to attend private tuition in Latin, Greek and materia medica with the hospital's apothecary, while continuing her work as a nurse. She also studied anatomy and physiology three evenings a week. Eventually she was allowed into the dissecting room and the chemistry lectures. Gradually, she became an unwelcome presence among the male students, who in 1861 presented a memorial to the school against her admittance as a fellow student, despite the support she had from the administration. She was obliged to leave the Middlesex Hospital but she did so with an honors certificate in chemistry and materia medica. She then applied to several medical schools, including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and the Royal College of Surgeons, all of which refused her admittance.

In 1865, she finally took her exam and obtained a license (LSA) from the Society of Apothecaries to practice medicine, the first woman qualified in Britain to do so. She also passed the exam with the highest marks. The Society of Apothecaries immediately amended its regulations to prevent other women obtaining a license meaning that Anderson’s friend, Sophia Jex-Blake however could not follow this same path. The new rule disallowed privately educated women to be eligible for examination.

Despite her new credentials, she had trouble finding work at a hospital. Instead, she decided to open her own practice. At first, she had few patients, but the practice eventually grew. She even opened an outpatient center that allowed poor women to seek medical services from a practitioner of their own gender.

During a cholera outbreak in 1865, her established practice began to see a large surge of patients, as many put their biases aside to seek medical service during this time.

For the rest of her career, she continued work in many hospitals. She finally gained some credibility, likely after her work during the cholera outbreak. She had heard that the Dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Sorbonne, Paris was in favor of admitting women as medical students, Garrett studied French so that she could apply for a medical degree, which she obtained in 1870 after some difficulty.

Anderson was also active in the women's suffrage movement. In 1866, she presented petitions signed by more than 1,500 asking that female heads of household be given the right to vote. That year, Anderson joined the first British Women's Suffrage Committee. She was not as active as her sister, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, though she became a member of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1889. After her husband's death in 1907, she became more active. As mayor of Aldeburgh, she gave speeches for suffrage, before the increasing militant activity in the movement led to her withdrawal in 1911. Her daughter Louisa, also a physician, was more active and more militant, spending time in prison in 1912 for her suffrage activities.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Garrett_Anderson

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/garrett_anderson_elizabeth.shtml

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/elizabethgarrettanderson

https://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/britain%E2%80%99s-first-female-doctor

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