Elizabeth Garrett Anderson is often considered to be one of the most significant women in the history of medicine and society, her work is often considered to be a turning point in history. She refused to accept a domestic role and who fought to change the prevalent Victorian attitude that women and men could not be equal. She was the first female doctor in Britain, helped to establish the women’s suffrage movement, and provided inspiration to her contemporaries and to those who followed in her footsteps.
Over the years she has made a major impact not only in the world of medicine but in the lives of women trying to peruse a career in that field. Elizabeth Garrett was born in 1836 in Whitechapel, London, one of 12 children. When she was five, her father, Newson Garrett, “bought a corn and coal warehouse in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, to where the family moved” (Sharp). By 1850, he was a wealthy man and able to send all his children away to school. Unusually for his time, Garrett considered it important that his daughters were educated, as well as his sons.
Elizabeth spent two years at boarding school in Blackheath and by the time she was 16 she was determined that she would work for a living, rather than staying at home and wait to be married. While little is recorded about her life in the 1850s, it is certain that “her views on social equality and what became known as feminism were developing” (Manton). “By 1854, Garrett was part of a circle of female friends in London, who all considered that the prevailing male domination of society was unjust. These friends included Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon, both of whom went on to be influential suffragettes” (Sharp).
The turning point in Elizabeth Garrett’s life was a meeting with Elizabeth Blackwell in 1859. “Blackwell was the first qualified female doctor in the United States, inspiring Garrett to pursue a medical career for herself” (Thomas). With support from her parents, Garrett applied to study medicine at several medical schools, but was turned down because of her gender. Eventually, she enrolled as a nurse at Middlesex Hospital and attended lectures given to the male student doctors. This lasted only a few months, as the students complained about her attendance when she started to outshine them in lectures.
However, they didn’t stop her, she continued to persevere. This is an example of the attitude barriers that Garrett Anderson had to overcome in order to achieve her goal, as women, again as stated before, were often held back due to the arrangement in society. Elizabeth worked extremely hard to work through all the negative aspect that came along with achieving this profession; it was her drive and ambition that sailed her through. “She turned to private study and was taught anatomy at the London Hospital and general medicine under the tuition of professors at St Andrews University and Edinburgh University Extra-Mural School”(Brooks 13-15).
None of this would have been possible without the continued financial and moral support of her father. In order to practice medicine, Garrett had to gain a qualifying diploma. London University, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and other examining bodies refused to allow her to sit their examinations, but she discovered that the Society of Apothecaries did not specifically ban women from taking their exams. “In 1865 Elizabeth went on to pass the Apothecaries exam, she was granted the certificate which enabled her to become a doctor” (Brooks 22-25).
She opened up a small clinic in 1866 located in London, which became the first in England to have women doctors (Brooks 25). Despite her success, she realized that without a medical degree she would never be taken seriously by the male-dominated profession. Unable to obtain an MD in Britain, “she taught herself French and moved to Paris, where she was successful in becoming an MD at the University of Paris in 1870” (Brooks 26-28). Throughout her endeavor to gain professional recognition, Garrett was increasingly committed to equality for women.
In 1865, “she and ten others, including Emily Davies, Dorothea Beale and Barbara Bodichon, formed a women’s discussion group called the Kensington Society” (Spartacus Education). All the members of the Society were trying to pursue careers in the male professions of medicine and education. Their discussions inevitably centered around women’s lack of influence in society and turned to Parliamentary reform as a first step towards equality. The concept of universal suffrage was born. “In 1866, the Kensington Society organized a petition of 1,500 signatures, asking Parliament to grant equal voting rights for men and women” (Manton).
Women’s suffrage was supported by many Members of Parliament, most notably John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett. “Mill added an amendment to the Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men, but the amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73”(Manton). The Kensington Society decided to fight on and formed the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. Other groups were also formed around Britain and in 1897, 17 of them joined together into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). In the 1919 National Election, women were able to vote for the first time (Brooks 54).
“In 1878, Elizabeth Garrett married James Anderson, a London ship-owner and financial adviser to East London Hospital”(Brooks 28). She did not, however, give up her medical practice, her fight for equality, or her name. She was known thenceforth as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The Andersons had three children, one of whom Louisa went on to become a prominent campaigner for women’s suffrage in the early 20th Century. Elizabeth continued to practice medicine in London and to pursue improved medical services for women.
She created the “London School of Medicine for Women and in 1876 saw an Act passed in Parliament enabling women to train and to practice as doctors”(Manton), alongside men. In 1877, the London School of Medicine for Women became part of London University and in “1883 Garrett Anderson became Dean of the renamed London School of Medicine” (Brooks 41). The New Hospital for Women in Marylebone proved to be too small for the growing number of women attending the practice. As a result, new premises were opened on Euston Road in 1890.
In 1892, thanks to her continued campaigning, women were admitted to the British Medical Association (BMA). Garrett Anderson was elected President of the East Anglian branch of the BMA in 1897, in recognition of her work. She retired from medicine in 1902. She continued to take an active interest in politics and was elected Mayor of Aldeburgh – “the first woman mayor in England” (Brooks 42). That same year, at the age of 72, she was one of a number of women from The Militant Women’s Social and Political Union who stormed the House of Commons in protest at the lack of recognition of women’s rights.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson died in 1917, But, perhaps more important is that women in Britain today take it for granted that they can be educated and work alongside men; they have access to gender-specific medical services; and they can not only vote, but serve in Parliament. Without practical visionaries like Garrett Anderson and her contemporaries this might not have come about. Elizabeth Garret Anderson had strongly influenced women not only in Britain but all over the world to keep fighting for what they believe in.
She showed that women are just as equal as men and women can do any job given to a man just as well or maybe even better. As you can see in this essay, she achieved many things like “ the first English woman to qualify in medicine, the first woman to be elected to a school board, the first woman Dean of a Medical School and Founder of the first Hospital for Women” (Brooks 42). She gave a voice to many women who were afraid to speak, she gave women courage and inspiration, letting all women know that they can achieve great success in whatever career they want to pursue.
Elizabeth Garret Anderson is a woman of much strength, who used her courage and bravery to show just how equal women can be. Work Cited Thomas, Gale. Elizabeth Garret Anderson from Science and its time. 2005-2006 Manton, Jo. Elizabeth Garret Anderson. London: Butler and Tan LTD, 1965. Print. Brook, Barbara. Elizabeth Garret Anderson: “A thoroughly ordinary woman”. Aldeburgh: The Aldegurgh Bookshop. 1997. Print Unknown. Elizabeth Garnett Anderson: Spartacus Education. Spartacus. Schoolnet. co. uk 2004-2006. Evelyn Sharp, Unfinished Anventures. 1933. Print.