Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake
Portrait by Samuel Laurence 1865
|Died||7 January 1912 71) (aged|
Mark Cross, Rotherfield, Sussex, England
|Profession||Physician and teacher|
Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (21 January 1840 – 7 January 1912) 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, collectively known as the Edinburgh Seven, began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. She was the first practising female doctor in Scotland, and one of the first in the wider United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; a leading campaigner for medical education for women and was involved in founding two medical schools for women, in London and Edinburgh at a time when no other medical schools were training women.
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.
A physician, medical practitioner, medical doctor, or simply doctor, is a professional who practises medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Physicians may focus their practice on certain disease categories, types of patients, and methods of treatment—known as specialities—or they may assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities—known as general practice. Medical practice properly requires both a detailed knowledge of the academic disciplines, such as anatomy and physiology, underlying diseases and their treatment—the science of medicine—and also a decent competence in its applied practice—the art or craft of medicine.
A teacher is a person who helps others to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.
Sophia Jex-Blake was born at 3 Croft Place Hastings, England on 21 January 1840, daughter of retired lawyer Thomas Jex-Blake, a proctor of Doctors' Commons, and Mary Jex-Blake née Cubitt.Her brother was Thomas Jex-Blake, future Dean of Wells Cathedral. Until the age of eight she was home-educated. She attended various private schools in southern England and in 1858 enrolled at Queen's College, London, despite her parents' objections. In 1859, while still a student, she was offered a post as mathematics tutor at the college where she stayed until 1861, living for some of that time with Octavia Hill's family. She worked without pay: her family did not expect their daughter to earn a living, and indeed her father refused her permission to accept a salary.
Hastings is a town and borough in East Sussex on the south coast of England, 24 mi (39 km) east of the county town of Lewes and 53 mi (85 km) south east of London. It has an estimated population of 90,254.
Doctors' Commons, also called the College of Civilians, was a society of lawyers practising civil law in London. Like the Inns of Court of the common lawyers, the society had buildings with rooms where its members lived and worked, and a large library. Court proceedings of the civil law courts were held in Doctors' Commons. The society used St Benet's, Paul's Wharf as its church.
Thomas William Jex-Blake was an Anglican priest and educationalist.
The following month Sophia Jex-Blake travelled to the United States to learn more about women's education. She visited various schools, was strongly influenced by developments in co-education in the US and later published A Visit to Some American Schools and Colleges. At the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston she met one of the country's pioneer female physicians, Dr Lucy Ellen Sewall, who became an important and lifelong friend, and she worked there for a time as an assistant. This was a turning point for Jex-Blake as she realised, during this visit, that to become a doctor was her life's vocation.
A physician assistant (PA) is a health care practitioner who practices medicine in collaboration with or under the (indirect) supervision of a physician, depending on state laws. Physicians do not need to be on-site with PAs and collaboration or supervision often occurs via electronic means when consults are necessary. Their scope of practice varies by jurisdiction and healthcare setting.
In 1867, along with Susan Dimock, a trainee from the New England Hospital, she wrote directly to the President and Fellows of Harvard University requesting admission to the University's Medical School. They received their reply a month later, in a letter which stated: "There is no provision for the education of women in any department of this university". The following year, she hoped to attend a new medical college being established by Elizabeth Blackwell in New York, but in the same year her father died so she returned to England to be with her mother.
Susan Dimock M.D. was a pioneer in American medicine who received her qualification as a doctor from the University of Zurich in 1871 and was subsequently appointed resident physician of the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1872. The hospital, now known as the Dimock Community Health Center, was renamed in her honor after her tragic drowning in 1875. Dimock was traveling to Europe for pleasure and profession when she died in the shipwreck of the SS Schiller off the coast of the Scilly Isles. She is also remembered for becoming the first woman member of the North Carolina Medical Society.
Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
In 1869, Jex-Blake's essay Medicine as a profession for women appeared in a book edited by Josephine Butler: Women's Work and Women's Culture. In this she argued that natural instinct leads women to concern themselves with the care of the sick. However, with education of girls being restricted to domestic crafts, women generally could not qualify to compete with men as medical practitioners. However, she argued that there was no objective proof of women's intellectual inferiority to men. She said that the matter could easily be tested by granting women 'a fair field and no favour' - teaching them as men were taught and subjecting them to exactly the same examinations.
Josephine Elizabeth Butler was an English feminist and social reformer in the Victorian era. She campaigned for women's suffrage, the right of women to better education, the end of coverture in British law, the abolition of child prostitution, and an end to human trafficking of young women and children into European prostitution.
Sophia Jex-Blake was determined to seek medical training in the UK and due to Scotland's already enlightened attitudes towards education, felt that if any university would allow women to study it would be a Scottish one.
She applied to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in March 1869 and although the Medical Faculty and the Senatus Academus voted in favour of allowing her to study medicine, the University Court rejected her application on the grounds that the University could not make the necessary arrangements 'in the interest of one lady'.
The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1582, is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's ancient universities. The university has five main campuses in the city of Edinburgh, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university. The university played an important role in leading Edinburgh to its reputation as a chief intellectual centre during the Age of Enlightenment, and helped give the city the nickname of the Athens of the North.
She then advertised in The Scotsman and other national newspapers for more women to join her. A second application was submitted in the summer of 1869 on behalf of the group of five women initially (with two more joined later in the year to make the Edinburgh Seven - the group is Mary Anderson, Emily Bovell, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Sophia Jex-Blake, Edith Pechey and Isabel Thorne). It requested matriculation and all that that implied - the right to attend all the classes and examinations required for a degree in medicine. This second application was approved by the University Court and the University of Edinburgh became the first British university to admit women.
Sophia Jex-Blake wrote in one of her letters to her great friend Lucy Sewall:
"It is a grand thing to enter the very first British University ever opened to women, isn't it?"
See the Edinburgh Seven page for further details about the Edinburgh Campaign
As the women began to demonstrate that they could compete on equal terms with the male students, hostility towards them began to grow. They received obscene letters, were followed home, had fireworks attached to their front door, mud thrown at them. This culminated in the Surgeons' Hall riot on 18 November 1870 when the women arrived to sit an anatomy exam at Surgeons's Hall and an angry mob of over two hundred were gathered outside throwing mud, rubbish and insults at the women.
The events made national headlines and won the women many new supporters. However, influential members of the Medical faculty eventually persuaded the University to refuse graduation to the women by appealing decisions to higher courts. The courts eventually ruled that the women who had been awarded degrees should never have been allowed to enter the course.Their degrees were withdrawn and the campaign in Edinburgh failed in 1873.
Many of the women went to European universities that were already allowing women to graduate and completed their studies there.
Women were eventually admitted onto degree programmes at other British Universities in 1877. James Stansfeld, who had been closely associated with the London campaign (following the failure of the Edinburgh campaign) wrote, in his brief history of the events:
Dr Sophia Jex-Blake has made the greatest of all contributions to the end attained. I do not say that she has been the ultimate cause of success. The ultimate cause has been simply this, that the time was at hand. It is one of the lessons of the history of progress that when the time for reform has come you cannot resist it, though if you make the attempt, what you may do is to widen its character or precipitate its advent. Opponents, when the time has come, are not merely dragged at the chariot wheels of progress - they help to turn them. The strongest forces, whichever way it seems to work, does most to aid. The forces of greatest concentration here have been, in my view, on the one hand the Edinburgh University led by Sir Robert Christison, on the other the women claimants led by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake.
In 1874, Sophia Jex-Blake helped establish the London School of Medicine for Women but also continued campaigning and studying. The Medical Act (39 and 40 Vict, Ch. 41) soon followed, which was an act to repeal the previous statute while also permitting medical authorities to license all qualified applicants whatever their gender. The first organisation to take advantage of this new legislation was the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, but before Jex-Blake applied to them, she passed the medical exams at the University of Berne where she was awarded an MD in January 1877. Four months later she had further success in Dublin and qualified as Licentiate of the King's and Queen's College of Physicians of Ireland (LKQCPI) meaning she could at last be registered with the General Medical Council, the third registered woman doctor in the country.
Jex-Blake returned to Edinburgh where she leased a house at 4 Manor Place and in June 1878, put up her brass plate – Edinburgh had its first woman doctor. Three months later she opened an outpatient clinic at 73 Grove Street, Fountainbridge, where poor women could receive medical attention for a fee of a few pence. After her mother's death in 1881, Sophia Jex-Blake had a period of depressed reclusiveness, but in 1886 set up the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women.The Dispensary expanded by 1885 was moved to larger premises at 6 Grove Street where a small five-bed ward was added. The little outpatient clinic thus became the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women. This was Scotland's first hospital for women staffed entirely by women.
Two years later she established the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women. Effectively a small extramural class, it was largely enabled by a small handful of pro-female male physicians linked to the University of Edinburgh giving extramural classes open to men and women (which the university could not prevent). The first students included Elsie Inglis, Grace Ross Cadell and her sister Georgina, but Jex-Blake's skill as a teacher did not match her role as a doctor. An acrimonious split emerged with her students culminating in an infamous court case in 1889, where Jex-Blake was successfully sued for damages. Thereafter the Cadell sisters pursued their studies with the more genial, though far younger, Elsie Inglis who had set up a rival school, the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women. Jex-Blake's school came to an effective end in 1892 when the University of Edinburgh began taking female students. The Elsie Inglis College continued until 1916, when it merged with the Royal Colleges School of Medicine at Surgeons' Hall.
Jex-Blake lived and conducted her practice for 16 years in the house known as Bruntsfield Lodge on Whitehouse Loan. When she retired in 1889 the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children moved to this site, and became known as Bruntsfield Hospital, where it continued to function on the site until 1989.
Jex-Blake's romantic partner was Dr Margaret Todd. On Jex-Blake's retirement in 1899 they moved to Windydene, Mark Cross, Rotherfield, where Dr Todd wrote The Way of Escape in 1902 and Growth in 1906.
Her home became a meeting place for former students and colleagues, and she welcomed writers and acquaintances from the world over.
Jex-Blake died at Windydene on 7 January 1912 and is buried at Rotherfield. Todd subsequently wrote The Life of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake.
The University of Edinburgh commemorates Sophia Jex-Blake with a plaque (by Pilkington Jackson) near the entrance to its medical school, honouring her as "Physician, pioneer of medical education for women in Britain, alumna of the University".
In 2015, an Historic Scotland plaque was unveiled to commemorate the Surgeons' Hall Riot of 18 November 1870.
The Edinburgh Seven were awarded the posthumous honorary MBChB at the University of Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall on Saturday, July 6 2019. The degrees were collected on their behalf by a group of current students at Edinburgh Medical School. Medical student Simran Piya collected an honorary degree on behalf of Sophia Jex-Blake. The graduation was the first of a series of university events planned by the University of Edinburgh to commemorate the achievements and significance of the Edinburgh Seven.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was an English physician and suffragist. She was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, 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.
Elsie Maud Inglis was an innovative Scottish doctor, suffragist, and founder of the Scottish Women's Hospitals.
Sir Robert Christison, 1st Baronet, FRSE FRCSE FRCPE, was a Scottish toxicologist and physician who served as president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and as president of the British Medical Association (1875). He was the first person to describe renal anaemia.
The Edinburgh Seven were the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university. They began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869 and although they were ultimately prevented from graduating and qualifying as doctors, the campaign they fought gained national attention and won them many supporters, including Charles Darwin. Their campaign put the rights of women to a university education on the national political agenda, which eventually resulted in legislation to ensure that women could study medicine at university in 1876.
The London School of Medicine for Women established in 1874 was the first medical school in Britain to train women as doctors.
The Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women was founded by Sophia Jex-Blake in Edinburgh, Scotland, in October of 1886, with support from the National Association for Promoting the Medical Education of Women. Sophia Jex-Blake was appointed as both the Director and the Dean of the School. The first class of women to study at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women consisted of eight students, the youngest of whom was nineteen years of age. Throughout its twelve years in operation, the school struggled to find financial funding to keep its doors open. When a rival institution, the Medical College for Women, was opened by Ina Cadell, Grace Cadell, and Elsie Inglis—former students of Jex-Blake—the Edinburgh School of Medicine could no longer compete. The school folded and closed its doors in 1898. Over the twelve years of its operation, the Edinburgh School of Medicine provided education to approximately eighty female students. Of those eighty students, thirty-three completed the full course of medical training at the Edinburgh School while many others chose to finish their education at outside institutions.
Isabel Jane Thorne was an early campaigner for medical education for women. Mrs Thorne, as she was known, was a member of the feminist Edinburgh Seven, who campaigned and succeeded in securing the right by statute for women to be educated to qualify as doctors. An exemplary Victorian, Thorne's dedication to duty and service was a precursor for the more violent campaigns of the suffragettes to achieve full enfranchisement for women.
Edith Pechey was one of the first women doctors in the United Kingdom and a campaigner for women's rights. She spent more than 20 years in India as a senior doctor at a women's hospital and was involved in a range of social causes.
Margaret Georgina Todd was a Scottish doctor and writer. She helped coin the term isotope in 1913 in a suggestion to chemist Frederick Soddy.
Agnes McLaren was a respected Scottish doctor who was the first to give medical assistance to women in India who, because of custom, were unable to access medical help from male doctors. Agnes was active in social justice causes including protests against the white slave trade. She signed the 1866 women's suffrage petition and was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women's Suffrage alongside her stepmother, Priscilla Bright McLaren. In 1873 she travelled with Priscilla and Jane Taylour to give suffrage lectures in Orkney and Shetland. Her father had supported the campaign of first women who sought to study medicine at University of Edinburgh and Agnes became friends with Sophia Jex-Blake, one of the Edinburgh Seven. Her father did not however, support Agnes' own ambitions in this area. She left Scotland to study in France and later, in order to be permitted to practice in Scotland became a member of the Royal College of Dublin.
Emily Bovell was a physician and credited as one of the original members of the Edinburgh Seven. After qualification she worked at the New Hospital for Women in Marylebone Road, London and imn Paris. The French government award her the Officier des Ordre des Palmes Académiques for services to medicine. Her husband was the neurologist William Allen Sturge.
Margaret Ida Balfour, was a Scottish doctor and campaigner for women’s medical health issues, who made a significant contribution to the development of medicine in India. Her prolific writing during the early 20th century alerted many to the health needs of women and children in India and Africa and the unhealthy environments in which they lived.
Jessie MacLaren MacGregor was one of the first women to be awarded an MD from the University of Edinburgh in 1899. Along with Elsie Inglis she was instrumental in setting up the Muir Hall of Residence for Women Students in Edinburgh, and the Hospice, a nursing home and maternity hospital for poor women.
Helen de Lacey Evans was the fifth member of the Edinburgh Seven, a group of women who enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in 1869, and who sought to qualify as physicians. She subsequently married the editor of the Scotsman, Alexander Russel. She was also the mother of the suffragist and feminist campaigner Helen Archdale.
Edith Shove, M.B. Lond., was one of the earliest English women medical doctors, and among the first to complete her training at the London School of Medicine for Women. She was the first British woman doctor to hold a public appointment with her work at the Post Office.
Leith Hospital was situated on Mill Lane in Leith, Edinburgh, and was a general hospital with adult medical and surgical wards, paediatric medical and surgical wards, a casualty department and a wide range of out-patient services. It closed in 1987.
Grace Ross Cadell was in the first group of women to study medicine in Scotland and qualify. She was, with Elsie Inglis, one of the initial entrants to the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, set up by Sophia Jex-Blake in 1886. Her determination and character were demonstrated by her standing up to Jex-Blake over a disciplinary matter, being dismissed from the school and subsequently successfully suing Jex-Blake and her school. Her career as a Scottish pioneer physician, surgeon was devoted mainly to the care of women and children. She became an active suffragette as was well known for public acts of defiance in the cause of women's suffrage. She was prominent in providing medical care and refuge for her fellow suffragettes, some of whom were released into her care directly from episodes of force feeding in prison. Her home became well known as a sanctuary for suffragettes.
Alice Stewart Ker or Alice Jane Shannan Ker MRCPI was a British physician, health educator, and suffragette. She was the 13th woman on the registry of the British Medical Association.
The Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women was established by Elsie Inglis and her father John Inglis. Elsie Inglis went on to become a leader in the suffrage movement and found the Scottish Women's Hospital organisation in World War I, but when she jointly founded the College she was still a medical student. Her father, John Inglis, had been a senior civil servant in India, where he had championed the cause of education for women. On his return to Edinburgh he became a supporter of medical education for women and used his influence to help establish the college. The college was founded in 1889 at a time when women were not admitted to university medical schools in the UK.
William Russell, MD, LLD, FRCPE was a Scottish pathologist and physician who became Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He was the first to describe the cellular inclusion particles known as Russell bodies. He was an early supporter of medical education for women.
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