ALAN WEBER: When Elizabeth Blackwell was lecturing in England in 1859 at the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, one member of the audience was sitting transfixed by every word. After hearing Blackwell speak, Elizabeth Garrett was determined to become a doctor. When she proposed the idea to her father Newson Garrett, a prominent businessman, he was shocked and called her plan disgusting.
But Elizabeth Garrett Anderson went on to become a woman of firsts. She was the first woman ever elected to a school board and the first woman mayor in England. Anderson wrote about her early life--
SPEAKER 1: "I was a young woman living at home with nothing to do in what authors call 'comfortable circumstances,' but I was wicked enough not to be comfortable. I was full of energy and vigor and of the discontent which goes with unemployed activity."
ALAN WEBER: --unemployed activities." Newson Garrett later consented to his daughter's ambitious project and joined her in consulting with London's prominent medical men on the proper course of action. In 1860, she became a nurse at Middlesex Hospital and attended lectures at the medical school there. She did not become sickened by the dissection and corpses as both her friends and detractors had expected.
Some of the less motivated and promising students, however, grew jealous of her keen intellectual ability and capacity for hard work. A group of students gathered together a petition to have her expelled from the lecture hall. They wrote in their formal complaint, "Having young females as passive spectators in the operating theater is an outrage on our natural instincts and feelings and calculated to destroy those sentiments of respect and admiration with which the opposite sex is regarded by all right minded men." The hospital administration caved into the student demands since they were dependent on student fees to run the hospital school.
Undaunted, Elizabeth Garrett began studying at the apothecaries' hall. The Apothecaries' Charter of 1815 states that all persons could be licensed by them. She substituted private medical instruction for the classes that she was barred from.
When she announced her intention to qualify as an apothecary, the society reversed their earlier position and tried to prevent her from taking the examination, but a lawsuit instigated by Newson brought them into line. In 1865, she passed the apothecaries' exam and became the first female member of the Society of Apothecaries. After she graduated, the apothecaries amended their constitution to forbid women sitting for the exam.
She wrote to universities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Oxford to be examined for a full medical degree, but her plea fell on deaf ears. She was finally admitted as a student at St. Andrew's College in Scotland in 1862. Although she paid her matriculation fees, she was later denied admission. She refused to take the fee back, however. The prestigious British Medical Journal spoke contemptuously of her attempt to enter St. Andrew's, but the Paris journal [INAUDIBLE] heralded her efforts.
With a house on Berkeley Street obtained by her father, she set up an apothecary practice in London. She enlisted the support of Lord Lyons, the British ambassador to France, to help her support her bid to sit for a French M.D. Exam without attending lectures in that country. With the intervention of Empress Eugenie, Elizabeth was allowed to sit for medical exams in Paris. Large numbers of curious students pressed into the hall to hear her successfully defend her doctoral thesis on migraine headaches. She advocated several practical cures still recommended, such as fresh air, avoiding alcohol, and taking caffeine in the form of hot tea.
Returning to England, she married the shipping magnate James Skelton Anderson in 1871. Although she was now Mrs. Garrett Anderson, she continued her medical practice. This was a large step for both of them. Dual career households were extremely uncommon at the time, when men were the recognized breadwinners. She struggled greatly with the issue of divided devotion between a husband and family and the profession that she had fought so hard to enter.
James and Elizabeth decided on a very modern financial arrangement of keeping their income in common and drawing on it individually for their expenses. She had three children and employed a nanny, which allowed her to continue her medical work. Although ovariotomy, or surgical removal of the ovaries, was a very difficult and infrequently performed surgery in the 1870s, she successfully performed this operation by scrupulously following the newly introduced practice of anti-septic surgery pioneered by Joseph Lister.
Garrett Anderson did not support Sophia Jex-Blake's impassioned campaign to force herself into the medical school at the University of Edinburgh, and in fact wrote publicly that women in England should seek foreign medical degrees, such as she had done in Paris. The British, she argued, were not yet ready for medical co-education. Her attempt to get other women admitted to the British Medical Association was voted down, although she herself was a member.
After an active medical career, the city of Aldeburgh elected her mayor in 1908. Many of her acts and reforms as mayor involved public health and sanitation such as improving the sewer system, the water tower, and public restrooms.
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This is a story of perseverance and courage, but also about disappointment and social prejudice as women fought to establish themselves as respected health care practitioners in Europe and America.
This video is part 3 of 5 in the Storming the Citadel series.