The collection is arranged in chronological order and includes letters written by and to individuals concerned with work in this area, including: Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, Sir John Seeley, George Eliot, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Cardinal Manning, Lady Strangford, Lord Shaftesbury, Mr Rickman J Godlee Dr Helen Wilson, Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, Frances Power Cobbe, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Lord Baldwin and Margaret Lawrence (45 items, 1865-c.1972). Subjects include the training of women as doctors, the medical profession and their experiences as medical students.
Autograph Letter Collection: Women in Medicine
- This material is held at
- ReferenceGB 106 9/05
- Dates of Creation1865-1972
- Language of MaterialEnglish
- Physical Description1 A box (1 volume)
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
In the early nineteenth century it was impossible for women to practice as doctors in Great Britain. The alternative choice of nursing was seen as a corrupt profession of the unskilled and the lower classes until the middle of the century. Both attitudes were caused by women's lack of access to training in the profession, largely through the parallel lack of access to training in universities and colleges that were only open to men. The one role open to them, midwifery, was constantly undermined and devalued due to this very lack of university education involved in learning its skills. In America the situation was slightly different: the English-born Elizabeth Blackwell had become the first woman in the United States to qualify as a doctor though rejection by male colleagues forced her to set up a women's hospital in New York. Visits to London in the 1850s led to work at the St Bartholomew's Hospital and friendship with Florence Nightingale. In 1859 the General Medical Council admitted her to the Medical Register but the following year a special GMC charter made it possible to exclude doctors with foreign medical degrees, leaving women who had qualified on foreign soil open to attack. Nonetheless, in 1869 Blackwell moved permanently to London and there established the London School of Medicine for Women in 1870, as well as the National Health Society. Blackwell's influence on British women intending to enter medicine was already great: in 1862 the Female Medical Society was established and Elizabeth Garrett decided to enter the profession under her advice. However, Garrett's initial attempts to enter several medical schools failed due to the continuing refusal of universities to accept female students. Instead, she was forced to become a nurse at Middlesex Hospital, a profession that had become respectable through the work of Nightingale and her colleagues in professionalising nursing training and practice. Nevertheless, it came to light that the Society of Apothecaries did not specify that females were banned from taking their examinations and in 1865 Garrett sat and passed their examination before the loophole that allowed this was closed. Other countries began to allow women to enter the profession: in 1864 the University of Zurich admitted female students while the universities of Paris, Berne and Geneva followed suit in 1867. Garrett later was appointed visiting physician to the East London Hospital but though she subsequently graduated from the University of Paris, the British Medical Register refused to recognise her MD degree. In the next few years she opened the women-run New Hospital for Women in London with Elizabeth Blackwell and helped Sophia Jex-Blake to establish the London Medical School for Women to which Garrett Anderson was elected Dean of the London School of in 1884. The legal situation of women who wished to become doctors did not change, however. Though Edinburgh University allowed Sophia Jex-Blake and Edith Pechy to attend medical lectures in 1869, male fellow students rioted and their final examinations were rendered void as university regulations only allowed medical degrees to be given to men. The consequence of this was that the British Medical Association therefore refused to register the women as doctors. However, Russell Gurney, a MP and supporter of women's rights took the first legal steps to remedying the situation and in 1876 the Enabling Act was passed that allowed universities to award female students degrees in their subject. This meant that all medical training bodies were now free to teach women in this area if they chose to do so. The following year the Royal Free Hospital admitted women medical students for clinical training and the University of London adopted a new charter in 1878 that allowed women to graduate from their courses. Individual institutions were slowly forced to change their practices to permit women to hold their degrees, though some, like Oxford and Cambridge, resisted until 1920 and 1948 respectively. By 1891, 101 women doctors were in practice in the British Isles, and the following years the British Medical Association was finally forced to admit women doctors.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), the daughter of Newson Garrett and Louise Dunnell, was born in Whitechapel, London in 1836, one of twelve children. From 1851 to 1853 she was educated in Blackheath but while visiting Northumberland in 1854, Elizabeth met Emily Davies who would remain a friend and supporter for the rest of her life. Five years later Garrett met Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to qualify as a doctor, influencing the former to enter the field of medicine. Attempts to enter several medical schools failed; instead Garrett became a nurse at Middlesex Hospital though her efforts to attend lectures for the male doctors failed. However, it came to light that the Society of Apothecaries did not specify that females were banned from taking their examinations and in 1865 Garrett sat and passed their examination before establishing a medical practice in London. That same year, she joined Emily Davies, Dorothea Beale and Francis Mary Buss to form the Kensington Society and in 1866 signed their petition for womens enfranchisement. In 1866 Garrett created a womens dispensary and four years later was appointed visiting physician to the East London Hospital where she met James Anderson, the man who was to become her husband in Feb 1871. Though she later graduated from the University of Paris, the British Medical Register refused to recognise her MD degree. Over the next few years she became the first woman elected to serve on a school board in England, the mother of three children, opened the women-run New Hospital for Women in London with Elizabeth Blackwell and helped Sophia Jex-Blake to establish the London Medical School for Women to which Garrett Anderson was elected Dean of the London School of in 1884. Though she was never on the executives of any of the major suffrage societies, she did chair meetings and was a member first of the Central Committee of the National Society for Womens Suffrage and then later of the London Society for Womens Suffrage. On her retirement she moved to Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and became mayor herself, following her husbands death, in 1908. Subsequently, she returned to suffrage politics, but left the National Union of Suffrage Societies, which her sister Millicent Fawcett dominated, and became active in the militant Womens Social & Political Union (WSPU) until 1911 when she objected to their arson campaign. Garrett Anderson and Skelton had one son, Alan Garrett Anderson (1877-1952), and two daughters, Margaret, who died of meningitis in 1875, and Louisa Garrett Anderson (18731943). Alan followed his father to become a public servant and shipowner, whilst Louisa went on to become a distinguished doctor herself and active suffragette. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson died on 17 Dec 1917.
Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) was a traveller and journalist, who was also a keen promoter of the emancipation of women. Cobbe was an early member of the Kensington Society, the Enfranchisment of Women Committee and later a founder of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and a member of the executive committee of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage. She was also a member of the Married Women's Property Committee. She had strong religious and ethical beliefs on which she also wrote. For some years she was also joint secretary of the National Anti-vivisection Society and was a founding member of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. She visited Italy frequently and spent several seasons at places such as Rome and Florence. She died in 1904.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was born in Suffolk in 1847, the daughter of Newson and Louisa Garrett and the sister of Samuel Garrett, Agnes Garrett, Louise Smith and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The sisters' early interest in the issue of women's suffrage and commitment to the Liberal party were heightened after attending a speech given in London by John Stuart Mill in Jul 1865. Though considered too young to sign the petition in favour of votes for women, which was presented to the House of Commons in 1866, Millicent attended the debate on the issue in May 1867. This occurred a month after she married the professor of political economy and radical Liberal MP for Brighton, Henry Fawcett. Throughout their marriage, the future cabinet minister supported his wife's activities while she acted as his secretary due to his blindness. Their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born the following year and that same month Millicent Garrett Fawcett published her first article, on the education of women. In Jul 1867, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was asked to join the executive committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and was one of the speakers at its first public meeting two years later. She continued her work with the London National Society until after the death of John Stuart Mill in 1874, when she left the organisation to work with the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. This was a step which she had avoided taking when the latter was formed in 1871 due to its public identification with the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Fawcett, despite her support for the movement's actions, had initially believed that the suffrage movement might be damaged by identification with such controversial work. However, the two groups later merged in 1877 as the new Central Committee for Women's Suffrage and a new executive committee was formed which included Fawcett herself. Her influence helped guide the group towards support for moderate policies and methods. She did little public speaking during this period but after the death of her husband in 1884 and a subsequent period of depression, she was persuaded to become a touring speaker once more in 1886 and began to devote her time to the work of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to women's suffrage Millicent Garrett Fawcett also became involved in the newly created National Vigilance Association, established in 1885, alongside campaigners such as J Stansfeld MP, Mr WT Stead, Mrs Mitchell, and Josephine Butler. In 1894 Fawcett's interest in public morality led her to vigorously campaign against the candidature of Henry Cust as Conservative MP for North Manchester. Cust, who had been known to have had several affairs, had seduced a young woman. Despite marrying Cust's marriage in 1893, after pressure from Balfour, Fawcett felt Cust was unfit for public office. Fawcett's campaign persisted until Cust's resignation in 1895, with some suffrage supporters concerned by Fawcett's doggedness in what they felt was a divisive campaign. In the late nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement was closely identified with the Liberal Party through its traditional support for their work and the affiliation of many workers such as Fawcett herself. However, the party was, at this time, split over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. Fawcett herself left the party to become a Liberal Unionist and helped lead the Women's Liberal Unionist Association. When it was proposed that the Central Committee's constitution should be changed to allow political organisations, and principally the Women's Liberal Federation, to affiliate, Fawcett opposed this and became the Honorary Treasurer when the majority of members left to form the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage. However, in 1893 she became one of the leading members of the Special Appeal Committee that was formed to repair the divisions in the movement. On the 19 Oct 1896 she was asked to preside over the joint meetings of the suffrage societies, which resulted in the geographical division of the country and the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was appointed as the honorary secretary of the Central and Eastern Society that year and became a member of the parliamentary committee of the NUWSS itself. It was not until the parent group's reorganisation in 1907 that she was elected president of the National Union, a position that she would retain until 1919. By 1901, she was already eminent enough to be one of the first women appointed to sit on a Commission of Inquiry into the concentration camps created for Boer civilians by the British during the Boer War. Despite this, her work for suffrage never slackened and she was one of the leaders of the Mud March held in Feb 1907 as well as of the NUWSS procession from Embankment to the Albert Hall in Jun 1908. She became one of the Fighting Fund Committee in 1912 and managed the aftermath of the introduction of the policy, in particular during the North West Durham by-election in 1914, when other members opposed a step that effectively meant supporting the Labour Party when an anti-suffrage Liberal candidate was standing in a constituency. When the First World War broke out in Aug 1914, Fawcett called for the suspension of the NUWSS' political work and a change in activities to facilitate war work. This stance led to divisions in the organisation. The majority of its officers and ten of the executive committee resigned when she vetoed their attendance of a Women's Peace Congress in the Hague in 1915. However, she retained her position in the group. During the war, she also found time to become involved in the issue of women's social, political and educational status in India, an area in which she had become interested through her husband and retained after the conflict came to an end. She remained at the head of the NUWSS when the women's suffrage clause was added to the Representation of the People Act in 1918 and attended the Women's Peace Conference in Paris before lobbying the governments assembled there for the Peace Conference in 1919. She retired in Mar 1919 when the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship but remained on its executive committee. She also continued her activities as the vice-president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, to which she had been elected in 1902, for another year. After this she became the Chair of the journal, the 'Women's Leader', and appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1925. It was in that year that she resigned from both NUSEC and the newspaper's board after opposing the organisation's policy in support of family allowances. She remained active until the end of her life, undertaking a trip to the Far East with her sister Agnes only a short time before her death in 1929.
Emily Anne Smythe [née Beaufort] (bap.1826-1887) was baptised in Middlesex in 1826. In 1861 she published Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines (2 vols.), which was a popular success. In 1862 she married Percy EFW Smythe, 8th Viscount Strangford (1826-1869). In 1869 upon her husband's death she trained as a nurse and then devoted herself largely to organisation of nursing and hospitals. In 1882 she co-established the Victoria Hospital at Cairo. On her return to England the Red Cross was conferred on her by the Queen. Afterwards she co-operated with Mrs EL Blanchard in the establishment of the Women's Emigration Society. She died in 1887.
This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit. Available on microfiche only.
Other Finding Aids
Abstracts of individual letters in the autograph letters collection were written and held alongside the letters. This work was done from the 1960s by volunteers including Nan Taylor. In 2004 Jean Holder completed a 3 year project to list the letters, copy-type the abstracts, and repackage the letters to meet preservation needs. In 2005 Vicky Wylde and Teresa Doherty proof read and imported the entries to the Special Collections Catalogue.
The original card index of all correspondents, including date of letter & volume reference, is available on the microfiche.
Alternative Form Available
A copy of this archive is available on microfilm held at The Women's Library.