Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – a true pioneer 

28/09/2015 00:00 
UCLH is celebrating 150 years since our hospital namesake Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first female doctor to qualify in Britain.

Elizabeth, who had a long association with the hospitals which make up UCLH, qualified in 1865 before going on to achieve a series of firsts.

Struggling against male prejudice and at a time when women were barred from becoming certified doctors, Elizabeth remained resolute throughout.

‘I almost think I would sell my soul for the cause I care most to help.  It is my business to become a great physician, nothing else I could do would help women so much as this…” she wrote to her fiancé.

London medical schools shunned her and The Middlesex Hospital Medical School, whilst initially allowing her to attend lectures, later voted to exclude her to preserve their reputation. Although The Society of Apothecaries allowed her to sit their exams (she excelled with top marks), they then closed the loophole preventing other women from following in her footsteps.  

A year after qualifying she established the St Mary’s Dispensary on Marylebone Road to treat impoverished women and children and then became a visiting physician to the East London Hospital for Children. 

Anderson's determination paved the way for other women, and in 1876 an act was passed permitting women to be examined by medical boards.  “No-one has time for everything, the passion of my life is to help women,” she declared.

Her achievements came in quick succession:
• qualified as a doctor of medicine  from Paris in 1870
• founded the New Hospital for Women (1872) staffed entirely by women and later renamed after her
• first woman to become a member of the British Medical Association (1873)
• became a lecturer at London School of Medicine for Women (1875)
• appointed Dean (1884).

In later life she became the first woman to be appointed Lady Mayor of Aldeburgh in Suffolk.

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital amalgamated with University College London's Obstetric Hospital on Gower Street in 2001, closing in 2008 when UCLH’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing opened. 

Dr Gill Gaskin, UCLH’s medical director for specialist hospitals, said: “Elizabeth Garrett Anderson led the way for women in medicine and on the development of a hospital to provide better services for women and children, the forerunner of our EGA wing at University College Hospital today. She showed real tenacity in meeting and navigating hurdle after hurdle and is an inspiration to doctors everywhere.”

A mini exhibition about Elizabeth and her achievements will be on display in University College Hospital’s Street Gallery, Euston Road.

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