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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 - Sophia Jex-Blake

Posted April 10, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24
Pathfinder Tags: Woman of the week wow

Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake was an English physician, teacher, and feminist. She led the campaign to secure women access to a university education when she and six other women – known as a group as the Edinburgh Seven – began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. She was the first practicing female doctor in Scotland and one of the first in the wider United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. She was also a leading campaigner for medical education for women and was involved in founding two medical schools for women in London. She did this at a time when no other medical schools were training women.

As a girl, she attended various private schools in southern England and in 1858 enrolled at Queen's College, London, despite her parents' objections. In 1859, she was offered a post as a mathematics tutor at the college, while she was still a student.

Her parents believed it was wrong for middle-class women to work and only gave their approval to tutor after she agreed not to accept a salary. This is one example of her strong will and lifetime desire to defy her parent’s wishes. She was energetic and audacious and often clashed with her parents conservative views. She had a thirst for knowledge, and because of that, was not satisfied by the schools meant to mold Victorian girls into homemakers and mothers. Jex-Blake was shuffled from school to school because her teachers and her ailing mother found it difficult to handle her excitable behavior. Jex-Blake showed little interest in marriage and instead craved learning and physical activity, like horseback riding, which she was denied.

While in London, Jex-Blake became friends with a group of feminists that included Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett, Adelaide Anne Procter, and Emily Faithfull. According to Louisa Garrett Anderson, "They were comrades and worked for a great end." Louisa Garrett Anderson is the daughter of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Jex-Blake’s friend and colleague, who we wrote about a few months ago on this blog.

Eventually, many of these women became involved in the struggle for women's suffrage.

In 1865, Jex-Blake convinced her parents to allow her to travel to the United States to study the education system. In Boston, she met Dr. Lucy Sewall, a 28-year-old physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Through their friendship, Jex-Blake was introduced to the field of medicine and the idea of feminism and women’s rights.

She worked in American hospitals and practiced as a pharmacist and the hospital’s bookkeeper. She grew to love the medical field and hoped to study medicine in the U.S. However, she was denied access to learn at Harvard. She was admitted to a medical college for women in New York, but decided to move back home after her father passed.

A few years after returning home, she pursued her medical education. In 1869, she was admitted to Edinburgh University's medical school, but the school later overturned the decision. This sparked what would become a long road to admittance, one that attracted attention all over the world.

Jex-Blake and four other women were admitted to the school, but there was a catch. They had to attend separate classes for women and pay higher tuition than men. Eventually, the university discontinued the separate classes and advised the women to seek training at a local teaching hospital, the Royal Infirmary. The hospital refused to comply. The women were harassed by opponents, although there were sympathizers among the faculty, students, and in the community.

The peak conflict was known as the Riot at Surgeons’ Hall, when protestors blocked the women from entering their classroom when they arrived for school that day. The incident earned publicity worldwide and the women gained sympathy and support.

Jex-Blake led the students to file a lawsuit against the university for blocking their education. They won the suit, but lost an appeal. The women finally took their fight to Parliament where, after a difficult battle, they succeeded in getting supporters to pass a bill that allowed all medical schools in Great Britain to admit women. But, many institutions still denied women, despite this. The group of women learned from some faculty members who were sympathetic to the cause, and still provided them time to learn.

Jex-Blake finally completed her medical education in Switzerland, and, in 1877, Jex-Blake and four other women passed their medical exams at the College of Physicians in Dublin, Ireland. At the age of 37, Jex-Blake was licensed to practice medicine.

She returned to Edinburgh and opened her own practice, which was very successful. Following her mother’s death, she opened the Edinburgh School for Women of Medicine. She went on to practice medicine for several years and conduct courses at the school.



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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: London NE, UK
Posts: 47
Good Answers: 4

Re: Woman of the Week - Sophia Jex-Blake

04/12/2017 8:02 AM

It seems that she was an incredibly determined and inspiring individual.

She should be as well-known as Emily Pankhurst.

I hope she sacked her publicist.

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