Elsie Inglis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Elsie Maud Inglis
Elsie Inglis.jpg
Elsie Inglis
Born(1864-08-16)16 August 1864
Naini Tal, India
Died26 November 1917(1917-11-26) (aged 53)
Resting placeDean cemetery
Other namesThe Lady with the Torch
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Known forSuffragist; First World War doctor; campaigner for women and children's health
HonoursSerbian Order of the White Eagle (First Class)
Bronze bust of Elsie Inglis by Ivan Mestrovic 1918, SNPG
Plaque marking Elsie Inglis' surgery, Walker Street, Edinburgh

Elsie Maud Inglis (16 August 1864 – 26 November 1917) was an innovative Scottish doctor, suffragist, and founder of the Scottish Women's Hospitals.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Elsie Maud Inglis was born in the hill station town of Naini Tal, India. Her parents were Harriet Thompson and John Forbes David Inglis (1820–1894), a magistrate who worked in the Indian civil service as Chief Commissioner of Oudh through the East India Company.[2] She had the good fortune to have enlightened parents for the time who considered the education of a daughter as important as that of a son. Her father used his position in India to “encourage native economic development, spoke out against infanticide and promoted female education."[3]

Inglis's maternal grandfather was Rev Henry Simson of Garioch in Aberdeenshire.[4] She was a cousin to the eminent gynaecologist Sir Henry Simson. Another cousin was related by marriage to her peer and fellow female medical student Grace Cadell who was the first Scottish woman to obtain a medical licence.

After a private education in Edinburgh and Paris, 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. In 1887, the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women was opened by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake and Inglis started her studies there. In reaction to Jex-Blake's uncompromising ways, she and her father founded the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women which arranged clinical training for its students under Sir William MacEwen at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.[2]

In 1892, she obtained the Triple Qualification, becoming a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. She was appalled by the standard of care and lack of specialisation in the needs of female patients, and 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. Inglis gained her MBChM qualification in 1899, from the University of Edinburgh, after it opened its medical courses to women.[2]


Medical practice[edit]

She returned to Edinburgh in 1894 where she set up a medical practice with Jessie MacLaren MacGregor, who had been a fellow student, and opened a maternity hospital, named The Hospice, for poor women alongside a midwifery resource and training centre. The Hospice, provided with an operating theatre and eight beds,[5] was at 219 High Street, on the Royal Mile, close to Cockburn Street,[6] and was the forerunner of the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity 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.

Suffrage movement[edit]

Her dissatisfaction with the standard of medical care available to women led her to political activism through the suffrage movement. She was the secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women's Suffrage in the 1890s while she was working toward her medical degree.[7]

Inglis worked closely with Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (the NUWSS). By 1906, "Elsie Inglis was to the Scottish groups what Mrs. Fawcett was to the English; when they too formed themselves that year into a Federation, it was Elsie who became its secretary."[8] She played a role in the early years of the Scottish Federation of Women's Suffrage Societies, acting as honorary secretary from 1906 to 1914.[9] Like Fawcett, Inglis was a suffragist and not like the Pankhurst family, who were suffragettes.

The Scottish Federation's most important initiative was the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service. Inglis felt that it was important for the hospitals to have a neutral name in order to attract "wide support from men and women".[10] Inglis was able to use her connections to the suffrage movement to raise money for the Scottish Women's Hospitals (SWH).

Inglis first assumed that the Scottish Red Cross could help with funding, but the head of the Scottish Red Cross, Sir George Beastson denied Inglis’ request stating that the Red Cross was in the hands of the War Office and he could have “nothing to say to a hospital staffed by women.”[11]

To help get the ball rolling for the SWH, “she opened a fund with £100 of her own money.”[12] By the next month, she had her first £1,000.[13] The goal was £50,000.[14]

Just as her medical career overlapped into her suffrage involvement, her suffrage involvement overlapped into her war work.

First World War[edit]

Despite Inglis's 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 Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia.

When Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps to offer them a ready-made medical unit staffed by qualified women, the War Office told her "Go home and sit still". It was, instead, the French government that took up her offer and established her unit in Serbia.[15] The hospital was based at the Abbey of Royaumont and was run by Frances Ivens from January 1915 to March 1919. Inglis had initially offered a 100-bed hospital but it grew to hold 600 beds as it coped with the battles including that on the Somme.[16]

Inglis 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.

Death and legacy[edit]

Grave of Dr. Elsie Inglis
Elsie Inglis Memorial in north aisle of St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh
Elsie Inglis Memorial, Mladenovac Serbia
Elsie Inglis Memorial, Mladenovac Serbia

Inglis died on 26 November 1917, the day after she arrived back in England, at the Station Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne. Her body lay in state at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and her funeral there on 29 November was attended by both British and Serbian royalty. The Scotsman newspaper wrote that it was an "occasion of an impressive public tribute". Winston Churchill said of Inglis and her nurses "they will shine in history."[2][17] A separate memorial service was held on 30 November in London, at St Margaret's Church in Westminster, the Anglican parish church of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. She is buried in the north section of Dean Cemetery, on a corner north of the central path. Her parents, John Forbes David Inglis (1820–1894) and Harriet Lowis (1827–1885) lie a few graves to the north. Her cousin, Sir Henry Simson, lies adjacent.

A memorial fountain was erected in Inglis's memory in Mladenovac, Serbia, commemorating her work for the country. A plaque marking her pre-war surgery from 1898 to 1914 was erected at 8 Walker Street, Edinburgh. A portrait of her is included in the mural of heroic women by Walter P. Starmer unveiled in 1921 in the church of St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. In 1922 a large tablet to her memory (sculpted by Pilkington Jackson) was erected in the north aisle of St Giles Cathedral, in Edinburgh. Her main physical memorial was the building of the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital in 1925. This primarily ran as a maternity hospital and thereby had a female-only patient base. Many Edinburgh children were born there during the 20th century. It was closed by the National Health Service in 1988 and sold off. Part of it is now an old people's home, part is private housing, and parts are demolished; it is no longer recognisable as a hospital. But a small plaque to Elsie Inglis exists near the south-west corner at the entrance to Holyrood Park.[6]

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.[18][19] In March 2015, the British Residence in Belgrade was renamed 'Elsie Inglis House' in recognition of her work in the country.[20] In November 2017, a memorial plaque to Elsie Inglis and 15 names women who died as a result of their service to the Scottish Women's Hospitals was set to open in Edinburgh Central Library.[21]

Inglis's name and picture (and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.[22][23][24]

The former Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital

Awards and honours[edit]

In April 1916, Inglis became the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle (First class) by the Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia at a ceremony in London.[2][25][26][27] She had previously been awarded the Order of Saint Sava (III class).[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Ewan, Elizabeth; Innes, Sue; Reynolds, Siân; Pipes, Rose, eds. (2006). Inglis, Elsie Maude. The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 177–178. ISBN 9780748632930.
  3. ^ Knox, William (2006). Lives of Scottish Women: Women and Scottish Society, 1800–1980. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 141.
  4. ^ Simson/Inglis graves Dean Cemetery
  5. ^ Balfour, Frances (1919). Dr. Elsie Inglis. New York: George H. Doran Company (Nabu Public Domain Reprints). p. 182. ISBN 9781141571468.
  6. ^ a b "The legacy of Elsie Inglis – Edinburgh's shame". The History Company. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  7. ^ Leah Leneman, 'Inglis, Elsie Maud (1864–1917)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 6 June 2015
  8. ^ Lawrence, Margot (1971). Shadow of Swords: A Biography of Elsie Inglis. Great Britain: Northhumberland Press Limited. p. 81.
  9. ^ Lovejoy, Esther Pohl (1957). Women Doctors of the World. New York: Macmillan. p. 288.
  10. ^ Leneman, Leah (1991). A Guid Cause: The Women's Suffrage Movement in Scotland. Aberdeen University Press. p. 211. ISBN 0 08 041201 7.
  11. ^ Lawrence, Margot (1971). Shadow of Swords: A Biography of Elsie Inglis. Great Britain: Northumberland Press Limited. p. 99.
  12. ^ Sheffield Telegraph, 30 November 1917.
  13. ^ Common Cause, 30 October 1914.
  14. ^ Lawrence, Margot (1971). Shadow of Swords: A Biography of Elsie Inglis. Great Britain: Nothumberland Press Limited. p. 100. ISBN 071810871X.
  15. ^ Beauman, Nicola (2008). A very great profession : the woman's novel 1914–1939 (rev. ed.). London: Persephone Books. p. 23. ISBN 9781903155684.
  16. ^ "Doctor Eileen Crofton: Physician and author who uncovered a story of". The Independent. 14 October 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  17. ^ Lawrence, Margot (1971). Shadow of Swords: A Biography of Elsie Inglis. Great Britain: Northumberland Press Limited.
  18. ^ "Banknote designs mark Homecoming". BBC News. 14 January 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2009.
  19. ^ The Scotsman: "Bank proves Elsie Inglis was woman of (£50) note".
  20. ^ "Serbia honours life of war doctor Elsie Inglis". Edinburgh Evening News. 17 March 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  21. ^ Pringle, Fiona (7 November 2017). "Memorial of Elsie Inglis set for Central Library". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Historic statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett unveiled in Parliament Square". Gov.uk. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  23. ^ Topping, Alexandra (24 April 2018). "First statue of a woman in Parliament Square unveiled". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  24. ^ "Millicent Fawcett statue unveiling: the women and men whose names will be on the plinth". iNews. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  25. ^ a b "Serbian White Eagle: Scotswoman as the first woman recipient", Aberdeen Journal, 15 April 1916
  26. ^ "Calls to restore 'forgotten' Elsie Inglis grave", Edinburgh Evening News, 8 November 2013, retrieved 11 February 2014
  27. ^ Medals and papers of Dr Elsie Inglis (PDF), Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Library & Archive, 2009, archived from the original (PDF) on 21 February 2014, retrieved 11 February 2014


  • 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
  • Leneman, Leah (1994). In the Service Of Life: The Story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press.
  • Leneman, Leah (1998). Elsie Inglis: Founder of battlefront hospitals run entirely by women. UK: NMS Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-901663-09-4.
  • "Elsie Inglis". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford. 2004.
  • Tait, Dr. H.P. (1964). Dr Elsie Maud Inglis, 1864-1917: A Great Lady Doctor. Bridgend, Wales: Bridgend Press.

External links[edit]