Copy of the diary of Mrs. Isabel Jane Thorne (1834-1910), campaigner for medical education for women

Scope and Content

The diary is 43pp. long (foolscap). It is a copy of typescript with corrections. It begins with her birth and family circumstances as she grew up, and includes her life as a governess, her marriage and journey to China, the birth of her children, the Taiping Rebellion, medical training in London and studies in Edinburgh, and her return to London. The diary ends in 1886-1887 and with brief description of personal celebrations around the Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Administrative / Biographical History

Isabel Jane Pryer was born in London on 22 September 1834. She was the daughter of Isabel Charlton and Thomas Pryer. On the death of her father she became a governess, and then she met and became engaged to Joseph Thorne, a tea merchant. They were married prior to embarking for life in Shanghai, China, in the mid-1850s. By the mid-1860s the family was back in England again and in the midst of economic crisis Isabel began classes in Midwifery at the Ladies Medical College, in Fitzroy square, London. The death of one of her children abroad had convinced her of the the need for women to have female doctors. In 1869, just before Joseph began his return to China, Isabel became interested in joining Sophia Jex-Blake in her attempt to have women qualify as doctors at Edinburgh University. She thus became one of the famous 'Edinburgh Seven'.

The 'Edinburgh Seven' were the first group of women medical students at a university in the United Kingdom, though of course Elizabeth Garrett Anderson had studied alone a few years earlier. They fought to study medicine at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and to be allowed to graduate. In 1869 they were allowed to attend specially-arranged classes, but in 1873 they lost a legal challenge against the University after it had decided they could not be awarded degrees. The Seven were: Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell. After this attempt to graduate was blocked, Thorne was one of the women who 're-grouped' down at the London School of Medicine for Women in England.

Isabel Jane Thorne died at home in Harley Street, London, in 1910.

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Acquisition Information

The material was transferred to Special Collections from another location within the Library, April 2009. Accession no: E2009.17.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using information contained within the collection and widely accessible electronic sites.

Other Finding Aids

None prepared for this collection.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library.

Related Material

Also accessible through Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are some Papers of Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (1840-1912), Coll-384.