London School of Medicine for Women

Coordinates: 51°31′32″N 0°07′24″W / 51.5256°N 0.1233°W / 51.5256; -0.1233
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The London School of Medicine for Women (LSMW) established in 1874 was the first medical school in Britain to train women as doctors.[1] The patrons, vice-presidents, and members of the committee that supported and helped found the London School of Medicine for Women wanted to provide educated women with the necessary facilities for learning and practicing midwifery and other branches of medicine while also promoting their future employment in the fields of midwifery and other fields of treatment for women and children.[2]


London School of Medicine for Women, Hunter Street.

The school was formed in 1874 by an association of pioneering women physicians Sophia Jex-Blake, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Emily Blackwell and Elizabeth Blackwell with Thomas Henry Huxley. The founding was motivated at least in part by Jex-Blake's frustrated attempts at getting a medical degree at a time when women were not admitted to British medical schools, thus being expelled from Edinburgh University.[3] Other women who had studied with Jex-Blake in Edinburgh joined her at the London school, including Isabel Thorne who succeeded her as honorary secretary in 1877. She departed to start a medical practice in Edinburgh where she would found the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1886.

Royal Free Hospital – School of Medicine for Women, Hunter Street.

The UK Medical Act of 1876 (39 and 40 Vict, Ch. 41) was an act which repealed the previous Medical Act in the United Kingdom and allowed the medical authorities to license all qualified applicants irrespective of gender.[4][5] [6] In 1877 an agreement was reached with the Royal Free Hospital that allowed students at the London School of Medicine for Women to complete their clinical studies there. The Royal Free Hospital was the first teaching hospital in London to admit women for training.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was Dean (1883–1903) while the school was rebuilt, became part of the University of London and consolidated association with the Royal Free Hospital. In 1896, the School was officially renamed the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women.

In 1894, a well known Indian feminist Rukhmabai qualified in medicine after attending the London School of Medicine for Women. The number of Indian women students steadily increased so that by 1920 the school, in co-operation with the India Office opened a hostel for female Indian medical students.

In 1914, the school was further expanded due to the number of women wishing to study medicine, making it necessary to double the number of laboratories and lecture rooms.[3] At the time of expansion, the school had over 300 students enrolled, making it the largest women's university college in Britain.[3]

In 1998, it merged with the University College Hospital's medical school to form the UCL Medical School.[1]

Background about the founders[edit]

Elizabeth Blackwell[edit]

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman from the United States of America to receive a medical degree.[7] Born in Bristol, England on the 3rd of February 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell was the third of nine children in the family. Among the many family members, Blackwell had famous relatives, including her brother Henry, a well-known abolitionist and women's rights supporter.

In 1832, Blackwell moved to America, specifically settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1838, Blackwell's father, Samuel Blackwell, died, leaving the family in poor economic status during a national economic crisis. Because of this, Blackwell received her first occupational job as a teacher along with her mother and her sisters. Blackwell's inspiration for medicine sparked during a conversation with her dying friend, stating her situation would have been better if she had been a female physician. While teaching, Blackwell boarded two male physicians from the south, allowing her to attain her first real knowledge of the medical field through the mentoring from the two physicians.[7]

In 1847, Blackwell applied to college, getting rejected from everywhere she applied, except from Geneva College who accepted her as a practical joke.[7] After receiving years of discrimination, Blackwell eventually graduated first in her class, slowly earning the respect of her professors and educators. Blackwell then returned to New York City, opening a small clinic with the help of her Quaker friends. There she provided positions for women physicians during the Civil War, training women nurses for the union hospitals.

In 1869, she left New York City to return to England. From 1875 to 1877 she lectured on gynecology at the newly built London School of Medicine for Women.[7]

Sophia Jex-Blake[edit]

Sophia Jex-Blake was born in Hastings, UK in 1840.[8] After attending various private schools, Jex-Blake attended Queen's College. Jex-Blake's pursuit of an occupation in the field of medicine lead to the desire to enroll in the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. Jex-Blake's desire to attend the University of Edinburgh was hindered because the university did not allow women to attend. To fight this, Jex-Blake opened a court case against the university, resulting in an unsuccessful ruling in favor of the University of Edinburgh.

In 1889, the Act of Parliament ruled for degrees for women, largely resulting because of Jex-Blake's struggles. This allowed Sophia Jex-Blake to become one of the first female doctors in the UK. Jex-Blake then founded the London School of Medicine for Women as well as the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women.[8]

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson[edit]

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was born in Whitechapel, London and received a good education. She chose to pursue a medical career after meeting Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell. After applying to several medical schools, Anderson got rejected from all of those she applied to. Thus, Anderson enrolled as a nurse in Middlesex Hospital and was appointed to the position of medical attendant in 1866 at St. Mary's Dispensary. Still wishing to become a doctor, Anderson successfully pursued a medical degree in France.[9]

Returning to London, Anderson assisted in the founding of the New Hospital for Women at the St. Mary's Dispensary and the London School of Medicine for Women. Anderson would later oversee the London School's expansion after she received the position of Dean in 1883, after which she also appointed Blackwell as a Professor of Gynaecology. The school was later renamed to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, which was eventually made part of the University of London.[9]

Notable graduates[edit]

London School of Medicine for Women in the Present Day[edit]

While the London School of Medicine for Women faced possible closure on multiple different accounts, the school remained. In 1998, the school of medicine merged with the University College Hospital Medical School; the two combined to make the Royal Free and University College Medical School. This building later housed the British College of Acupuncture and the Hunter Street Health Centre in 2008.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "UCL Bloomsbury Project – London School of Medicine for Women".
  2. ^ Edmunds, Percy (1911). "The Origin of the London School of Medicine for Women". The British Medical Journal. 1 (2620): 659–660. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.2620.659-b. JSTOR 25285883. S2CID 57671737 – via JSTOR.
  3. ^ a b c England, Historic. "Former London School of Medicine for Women | Historic England". Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  4. ^ British Medical Journal. British Medical Association. 1908. pp. 1079–.
  5. ^ John A. Wagner Ph.D. (25 February 2014). Voices of Victorian England: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life. ABC-CLIO. pp. 211–. ISBN 978-0-313-38689-3.
  6. ^ Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons (1892). Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command. H.M. Stationery Office. pp. 40–.
  7. ^ a b c d "Elizabeth Blackwell". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Sophia Jex-Blake". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Louisa Aldrich-Blake". University of London. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  11. ^ "Margery Grace Blackie 1898 – 1981". Sue Young Histories. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  12. ^ Colville, Deborah (2011). "UCL Bloomsbury Project". UCL Bloomsbury Project.

External links[edit]

51°31′32″N 0°07′24″W / 51.5256°N 0.1233°W / 51.5256; -0.1233