catherine putnam

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), qualified as a physician in 1865

Art by A.O.M. (tumblr)

In 1859, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson met Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the United States.  Already involved in the fight for women’s rights, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was inspired by this meeting to train as a physician.

Unable to find a British physician to mentor her, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson enrolled as a nursing student at Middlesex Hospital.  Although she was denied entrance to the medical school, she was initially allowed to attend classes there.  However, in 1861 the male medical students at Middlesex Hospital presented a petition to the administration against her admission.  Elizabeth left Middlesex Hospital with a certificate in chemistry and the foundation of a medical school education, but she was denied admission to other British medical schools.

After further private study, Elizabeth passed the Society of Apothecaries exam and qualified as a physician in 1865.  Soon after, the society changed its charter to exclude women.  After qualifying as a physician, Elizabeth opened her own practice in London. Hearing that the Sorbonne has begun admitting female medical students if they had already qualified overseas, Elizabeth traveled to Paris to enroll.  She graduated in 1871.  The admission of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Catherine Gontcharoff, and Mary Putnam as holders of foreign medical degree opened the door for Madeleine Brès, the first French female physician.

Elizabeth returned to London where she co-founded the London School of Medicine for Women.  There she appointed Elizabeth Blackwell as Professor of Gynecology.  In 1873, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was admitted to the British Medical Association. After her admission, the association voted against admitting any additional female members.  Elizabeth was the sole female member for the next nineteen years.  Meanwhile, physician-in-training Sophia Jex-Blake and MP Russell Gurney passed the Medical Act of 1876 which allowed women to practice as physicians.

In addition to her pioneering work as a physician, Elizabeth was also the first British woman elected to a school board (London, 1870) and the first female mayor and magistrate in Great Britain (Aldeburgh, 1908).  Along with her sister Millicent Fawcett and her daughter Louisa Garrett Anderson, Elizabeth was an active member of the women’s suffrage movement.  Following in her mother’s footsteps, Louisa was also a physician.  She served in the Women’s Hospital Corps in France during World War I.