Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Birthday: June 9, 1836
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Mayor Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Born in: Whitechapel
Famous as: Mayor of Aldeburgh
father: Newson Garrett
siblings: Millicent Fawcett
children: Alan Garrett Anderson, Louisa Garrett Anderson
Died on: December 17, 1917
Founder/Co-Founder: London School of Medicine for Women, UCL Medical School
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a 19th century English physician, the first woman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain. She lived in an era where it was not common for women to receive formal education and they were dissuaded from pursuing a career of their own. A brave and courageous lady, she was a feminist to the core and struggled hard to obtain a medical education in order to become a physician. Born into prosperous family, Elizabeth was expected to marry young and become a homemaker. But a meeting with Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman physician, inspired her to become a doctor herself. Fortunately, her parents were supportive of her ambitions and encouraged her to follow her heart. However, women becoming doctors was totally unheard of in 19th century Britain and she faced a lot of challenges in acquiring a quality medical education. She bravely persevered and was eventually successful in becoming a physician after a long struggle. After becoming the first female physician in Britain, she went on to found the New Hospital for Women in London and was later appointed dean of the London School of Medicine for Women which she had helped to found. She was an icon for other aspiring women doctors and also a strong supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.
Childhood & Early Life
Elizabeth Garrett was born on 9 June 1836 in Whitechapel, London, to Newson Garrett and his wife Louisa. She was the second of eleven children in her family.
Her father, initially a pawnbroker, went on to become a successful businessman and provided the children with a comfortable upbringing. Her parents were very open-minded and encouraged all their children—including daughters—to pursue their ambitions.
Elizabeth received her early education from her mother and a governess. She was sent to the Boarding School for Ladies in Blackheath, London, when she was 13. She did not like the school much though her schooling instilled in her a love for reading.
She continued to read widely and learn new things even after leaving the school. She was also a wide traveler and on one of her travels she met Emily Davies, the early feminist and future co-founder of Girton College, Cambridge, and became friends with her. Davies encouraged Elizabeth’s passion to become a career-woman.
On another one of her tours, she met Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman physician in America, who had come to England to deliver a series of lectures on "Medicine as a Profession for Ladies." After an interaction with the lady doctor, Garrett became inspired to become a doctor herself.
Initially her father was against her idea of becoming a physician though he later relented and supported her wholeheartedly.
Women becoming doctors was a concept unheard of in Britain in those days and she could not get admission in any medical school. So she decided to study nursing at Middlesex Hospital, and proved to be a very capable student. She also studied anatomy and physiology from a private tutor.
The male students in the hospital started feeling threatened because of her intelligence and capability and complained to the administration which forced her to leave the Middlesex Hospital.
She then applied to several prestigious medical schools including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and the Royal College of Surgeons, but was denied admission everywhere.
She privately obtained a certificate in anatomy and physiology and in 1862 was finally admitted to the Society of Apothecaries. Eventually she was successful in obtaining a licence (LSA) from the Society of Apothecaries to practice medicine in 1865, the first woman qualified in Britain to do so.
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In spite of being a professionally qualified doctor, Elizabeth Garrett was having problems finding employment because of her gender. Undaunted, she opened her own practice in late 1865.
Initially patients were reluctant to consult a female physician, but eventually they started coming in greater numbers. When an outbreak of cholera in Britain threatened the citizens, many rushed to her clinic in desperation keeping aside their prejudices.
With the support of her father, she established the St Mary's Dispensary for Women and Children in 1866. She tended to over 3,000 new patients in the first year itself.
She learned French so that she could apply for a medical degree from the University of Sorbonne, Paris, which was more open towards admitting female medical students. She obtained the degree in 1870 though not before she overcame certain challenges.
In 1870, she was also elected to the first London School Board, an office newly opened to women. The St Mary's Dispensary for Women and Children was renamed as the New Hospital for Women and Children in 1872. Women from all over London came to the hospital to be treated for gynecological conditions.
In 1874, she collaborated with other pioneering women physicians and feminists like Sophia Jex-Blake, Emily Blackwell, Elizabeth Blackwell and Thomas Henry Huxley to establish The London School of Medicine for Women, the first medical school in Britain to train women. She also served as its dean.
In addition to her medical career she was also active in the women’s suffrage movement and became a member of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1889.
Elizabeth Garrett was the first woman to qualify in medicine in Britain, and by doing so she set a precedent for other aspiring female physicians to follow. She herself had endured numerous struggles in her quest to become a physician, and thus she became a champion for women’s right to receive medical education and helped to found the London School of Medicine for Women.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married James George Skelton Anderson, a successful businessman, in 1871 and gave birth to three children. Theirs was a happy marriage and her husband was supportive of her career. Her daughter Louisa also became a successful doctor and feminist in her own right.
Elizabeth Garrett lived a long life and died on 17 December, 1917, at the age of 81.
The New Hospital for Women was renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in her honor in 1918.