Edith Pechey

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Edith Pechey-Phipson
Portrait photograph by Thomas Fall (1833–1900)

Edith Pechey-Phipson (7 October 1845 – 14 April 1908) 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.[1]

Family and Edinburgh[edit]

Mary Edith Pechey was born in Langham, Essex, to William Pechey, a Baptist minister with an MA from Edinburgh University and his wife Sarah (née Rotton), a lawyer's daughter who, unusually for a woman of her generation, had studied Greek. After being educated by her father, Edith worked as governess and teacher before joining Sophia Jex-Blake's efforts to persuade Edinburgh medical school to teach women.[2]

After arriving at Edinburgh University in 1869, Pechey passed her matriculation exams with honours in 1870. As the first year student with the highest marks in chemistry she seemed to be entitled to a prestigious scholarship, but this was given to a male student who did less well than her. The cited reason was "that women are not part of the University class, because they are separately taught."[3] Her appeal against this decision was rejected by the university governing body.[4]

Early years as a doctor[edit]

In 1873 the group of seven women medical students to which she belonged had to give up the struggle to graduate at Edinburgh. One of Pechey's next steps was writing to the College of Physicians in Ireland to ask them to let her take exams leading to a license in midwifery. She worked for a time at the Birmingham and Midland Hospital for Women, apparently on the strength of her testimonials and successful studies, despite the lack of an official qualification. Next she went to the University of Bern, passed her medical exams in German at the end of January 1877 and was awarded an MD. Just at that time the Irish college decided to licence women doctors, and Pechey passed their exams in Dublin in May.

During the next six years Pechey practised medicine in Leeds, involving herself in women's health education and lecturing on a number of medical topics, including nursing. She was invited to give the inaugural address when the London School of Medicine for Women opened. Partly in reaction to the exclusion of women by the International Medical Congress she set up the Medical Women's Federation of England and in 1882 was elected president. George A. Kittredge, an American businessman in Bombay had started a fund, "medical women for India", that intended to bring women doctors from England to work in India where male doctors were not allowed to attend to women. Kittredge was in search of suitable doctors and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson suggested that Pechey might be interested and wrote to her on the idea of working at Bombay (now Mumbai) and be senior medical officer of the Cama Hospital for Women and Children there. Kittredge subsequently met Pechey in Paris in 1883 and suggested that she would be ideal for the Senior Medical Officer post at a new hospital that was being planned by P.H. Cama, a Parsi philanthropist in Bombay.[1][5]


Arriving on 12 December 1883 at Bombay, she learnt Hindi fast. As well as her work at the Cama Hospital she was in charge of the Jaffer Sulleman Dispensary for women, and after a few years, she succeeded in starting a training programme for nurses at Cama. She tried to counteract tendencies to treat women as inferior to men, wishing to establish equal pay for female medical workers at the same time as campaigning for wider social reform; she also campaigned against child marriage.[6] She often gave lectures on education and training for women and was involved with the Alexandra Native Girls' Educational Institution. Various prestigious institutions invited her to be the first woman member, including the senate of the University of Bombay and the Royal Asiatic Society.

Soon after arriving in India, she joined several of the learned societies in Bombay. She became a member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay Edith Pechey had met Herbert Musgrave Phipson (1849–1936), a reformer, wine merchant and a founding secretary to the Bombay Natural History Society as well as the "medical women for India" fund. In 1888, she was on the managing committee of the Bombay Natural History Society.[7] She married Phipson in March 1889 and later used the surname Pechey-Phipson. Five years later diabetes and ill health meant she had to give up hospital work but was able to continue for some time with her private practice which served the Bombay elite. In 1896, when bubonic plague struck the city, she played her part in public health measures, and criticisms she made of the way the crisis was handled proved to be influential in managing an outbreak of cholera.

Later years[edit]

Pechey-Phipson and her husband returned to England in 1905 and she was soon involved in the suffrage movement, representing Leeds suffragists at an International Women's Suffrage Alliance congress in Copenhagen in 1906. She was at the forefront of the Mud March demonstration organised by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1907, but was becoming ill and soon needed treatment for breast cancer. Her surgeon was May Thorne, daughter of Pechey-Phipson's student friend Isabel Thorne.[1]

She died from cancer while in a diabetic coma on 14 April 1908 at her home in Folkestone, Kent. Her husband set up a scholarship at the London School of Medicine for Women in Edith's name which was granted regularly up to 1948. In India, her name continued until 1964 at the Pechey-Phipson Sanatorium for Women and Children at Nasik, Maharashtra.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lutzker, Edythe (1967). "Edith Pechey-Phipson, M.D.: Untold Story". Medical History 11 (1): 41–45. doi:10.1017/s0025727300011728. PMC 1033666. PMID 5341034. 
  2. ^ Anagol, Padma (2004). "Phipson, (Mary) Edith Pechey- (1845–1908)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/56460. 
  3. ^ The Spectator, 9 April 1870
  4. ^ Jex-Blake, Sophia (1886). Medical Women. A thesis and history. Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier. pp. 78–83. 
  5. ^ A short history of the "Medical women for India" fund of Bombay. Byculla: Education Society's press. 1889. pp. 14–15. 
  6. ^ Ethelmer, Ellis (1893). Woman Free. Congleton: Women's Emancipation Union. pp. 80–82. 
  7. ^ "List of Office Bearers". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 3: iii. 1888. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jayawardena, Kumari (1995). The White Woman's Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule. Routledge. ISBN 0415911052. 

External links[edit]