Elsie Inglis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Elsie Maud Inglis
Elsie Inglis.jpg
Elsie Inglis
Born (1864-08-16)16 August 1864
Naini Tal, India
Died 26 November 1917(1917-11-26) (aged 53)
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Nationality British
Other names The Lady with the Torch
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
Occupation Doctor
Known for Suffragist; World War I doctor

Elsie Inglis (16 August 1864 – 26 November 1917) was an innovative Scottish doctor and suffragist.


She was born in the hill station town of Naini Tal, India, to John Forbes David Inglis who worked in the Indian civil service as Chief Commissioner of Oudh. She had the good fortune to have relatively enlightened parents for the time who considered the education of a daughter as important as that of the son. After a private education her decision to study medicine was delayed by her mother's death in 1885, when she felt obliged to stay in Edinburgh with her father. However, the next year the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women was opened by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake and Inglis started her studies there. After founding her own breakaway medical college as a reaction to Jex-Blake's uncompromising ways, she completed her training under Sir William Macewen at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

She qualified as a licentiate of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1892. She was appalled by the general standard of care and lack of specialisation in the needs of female patients, but was able to obtain a post at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson's pioneering New Hospital for Women in London, and then at the Rotunda in Dublin, a leading maternity hospital.

Medical practice[edit]

She returned to Edinburgh in 1894 where she set up a medical practice with Jessie MacGregor, who had been a fellow student, and also opened a maternity hospital (The Hospice) for poor women alongside a midwifery resource centre, which was a forerunner of the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital. A philanthropist, she often waived the fees owed to her and would pay for her patients to recuperate by the sea-side. She was a consultant at Bruntsfield Hospital for women and children, and despite a disagreement between Inglis and the hospital management, the Hospice joined forces with them in 1910.

Her dissatisfaction with the standard of medical care available to women led to her becoming politically active and playing an important role in the early years of the Scottish Federation of Women's Suffrage Societies.

World War I[edit]

Despite her already notable achievements it was her efforts during the First World War that brought her fame. She was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, an organisation funded by the women's suffrage movement with the express aim of providing all female staffed relief hospitals for the Allied war effort. The organisation was active in sending teams to France, Serbia and Russia. She herself went with the teams sent to Serbia where her presence and work in improving hygiene reduced typhus and other epidemics that had been raging there. In 1915 she was captured and repatriated but upon reaching home she began organising funds for a Scottish Women's Hospital team in Russia. She headed the team when it left for Odessa, Russia in 1916 but lasted only a year before she was forced to return to the United Kingdom, suffering from cancer.

Grave of Dr. Elsie Inglis


In April 1916, Elsie Inglis became the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle (V class) by the Crown Prince of Serbia at a ceremony in London.[1][2][3] She had previously been awarded the Order of Saint Sava (III class).[1]

Death and memorials[edit]

Elsie Inglis Memorial in north aisle of St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh

She died on 26 November 1917, the day after she arrived back at Newcastle upon Tyne. Her funeral service at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on 29 November was "the occasion of an impressive public tribute", according to The Scotsman. Winston Churchill said of Inglis and her nurses "they will shine in history". A memorial fountain was erected in her memory.

She is buried in the north section of Dean Cemetery, on a corner north of the central path.

Elsie Inglis was commemorated on a new series of banknotes issued by the Clydesdale Bank in 2009; her image appeared on the new issue of £50 notes.[4][5]


The archives of the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 2SWH

The former Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital


  1. ^ a b "Serbian White Eagle: Scotswoman as the first woman recipient", Aberdeen Journal, 15 April 1916 
  2. ^ "Calls to restore 'forgotten' Elsie Inglis grave", Edinburgh Evening News, 8 November 2013, retrieved 11 February 2014 
  3. ^ Medals and papers of Dr Elsie Inglis, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Library & Archive, 2009, retrieved 11 February 2014 
  4. ^ "Banknote designs mark Homecoming". BBC News. 14 January 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2009. 
  5. ^ The Scotsman: "Bank proves Elsie Inglis was woman of (£50) note".


Further reading[edit]