Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: First Female Physician in Britain

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a renowned physician and suffragette who pioneered the presence of women in medicine. She was born in London in 1836 as the second of twelve children where she lived whilst her father tried to become successful as a silversmith. Elizabeth did not particularly enjoy her schooling at the Boarding school for ladies in Blackheath and complained about the lack of scientific and mathematical instruction, although her time there did awaken her interest for reading, and continued to study arithmetic and Latin after she left.


It is thought that Garrett first read about Elizabeth Blackwell in the English Women’s Journal who had become the first female doctor in the United States, and travelled to London when Blackwell visited there in 1859. Garrett also joined the Society for the Promotion of Women’s Employment which organised Blackwell’s lectures on the possibility of medicine as a profession for women and met with Blackwell herself. After this meeting Garrett decided to pursue medicine.

However, Garrett was met with resistance at every turn. She attempted to enrol at Middlesex Hospitals’ medical school was unsuccessful, although she was permitted to study Latin, Greek and some medical topics whilst working as a nurse. She was eventually allowed to chemistry lectures but became unwelcomed by the male students there and had to leave the Hospital. Garrett then applied to several medical schools, including Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the Royal College of Surgeons but all refused her. Not to be deterred Garrett obtained her medical credentials through a loophole within the Society of Apothecaries. She obtained her certificate in apothecary and physiology and was admitted by the Society of Apothecaries in 1862, and studied privately with professors from St Andrews, Edinburgh Royal Maternity and the London Hospital Medical School.

Garrett was able to take her exam to gain her Licence from the Society of Apothecaries in 1865 and obtained the highest mark out of seven candidates. With this licence she became the first woman qualified in Britain to practice medicine. She opened her own practice in 1865 and even studied French to be able to study a medicine degree at the University of Sorbonne in Paris which she achieved in 1870. She became the only female member of British Medical Association in 1873.

Elizabeth Garret died on this day in 1917 and left a rich legacy for women interested in pursuing the medical professions.



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