|Elsie Maud Inglis|
16 August 1864|
Naini Tal, India
26 November 1917 (aged 53)|
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
|Resting place||Dean cemetery|
|Other names||The Lady with the Torch|
|Alma mater||University of Edinburgh|
|Known for||Suffragist; First World War doctor; campaigner for women and children's health|
|Honours||Serbian Order of the White Eagle (First Class)|
Education and early life
Inglis was born in the hill station town of Naini Tal, India to 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. 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." 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. 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.
In 1892 she qualified as a Triple Qualification Licentiateship 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.
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, was at 219 High Street, on the Royal Mile, close to Cockburn Street, and was the 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 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.
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." 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. 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". 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.”
Just as her medical career overlapped into her suffrage involvement, her suffrage involvement overlapped into her war work.
First World War
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 Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia.
When Elsie 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. 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.
Elsie Inglis, 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.
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. She had previously been awarded the Order of Saint Sava (III class).
Death and burial
She 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."
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.
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.
A memorial fountain was erected in her 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 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.
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. In March 2015, the British Residence in Belgrade was renamed 'Elsie Inglis House' in recognition of her work in the country. 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.
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- 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
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- Tait, Dr. H.P. (1964). Dr Elsie Maud Inglis, 1864-1917: A Great Lady Doctor. Bridgend, Wales: Bridgend Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elsie Inglis.|
- Short biography
- Bruntsfield Hospital and Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital (Lothian Health Services Archive)
- The Scotsman archives
- Surgeons' Hall Museum, Edinburgh.
- University of Edinburgh
- Medical doctor and history, Documentary film - EAI
- Russian medical missions in Serbia during WW1, RTS Documentary