Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women

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Coordinates: 55°56′49″N 3°11′02″W / 55.947°N 3.184°W / 55.947; -3.184

The Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women was founded by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1886, with support from the National Association for Promoting the Medical Education of Women.

It was 10 years since the first UK women had been licensed to practise as doctors, and female medical education was in its early days; it would be another 6 years before Scottish universities would admit women students. Jex-Blake had friends in Edinburgh, as well as opponents, from her earlier unsuccessful campaign to persuade the University of Edinburgh to educate women in their medical school. She arranged for the new women students to gain clinical experience at Leith Hospital.

Her uncompromising approach to discipline led to problems. When two sisters won a court case challenging their expulsion, the bad publicity meant that both the school and Jex-Blake herself lost support, and some students moved to Glasgow, London and Dublin; there were no other places in Great Britain or Ireland where women could study medicine at that time.

Elsie Inglis left the School and set up an alternative nearby: the Medical College for Women. Jex-Blake wanted to be involved there too, but met resistance, while her relations with Leith Hospital were also becoming strained. Luckily the female students would soon be allowed to gain practical experience at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, previously blocked to them.

In 1892, Scottish universities opened their doors to women. The ESMW continued for a few more years, advertising

"Science Classes for Ladies - separate classes in botany, zoology and practical chemistry . . . Qualify for Arts and Science Graduation . . . "[1]

The school was never free of financial troubles, and in 1897 Jex-Blake herself was suffering from exhaustion. The following year the school closed, having educated about 80 women from Great Britain, India and elsewhere, with 33 of them completing the full course.

Jessie Macgregor was one of those who stayed for the whole course, achieving distinctions in her examinations. For many years she practised medicine in partnership with Elsie Inglis, and later was a medical officer at the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children.

Notable Lecturers[edit]

Notable students[edit]

See also[edit]


  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006) - under various headings.

External links[edit]