On November 19th 1869 a riot broke out at Surgeons Hall Edinburgh.
Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell were studying medicine at Edinburgh University, at a time when most of the establishment considered the idea of women undergraduates, let alone doctors, preposterous.
Several hundred male students pelted the women with mud and rubbish as they arrived. The women struggled through the crowd until a supporter unbolted a door to hurry them inside. The rioters shoved a live sheep, used by the medical faculty, into the exam hall, causing further chaos. Jex-Blake was later sued by a student, Mr Craig, who she claimed was at the root of the riot, but she defended his claim. The court awarded him one farthing instead of the £1,000 he sought in damages and the case was seen as a victory for the Edinburgh Seven. Public support for the women started to grow with a report in The Scotsman urging “all…men…to come forward and express… their detestation of the proceedings which have characterised and dishonoured the opposition to ladies pursuing the study of medicine in Edinburgh.”
The decision to allow them to study was later overturned on an appeal by Claud Muirhead, Senior Assistant Physician at the Royal Infirmary, supported by around 200 students. Unable to graduate, the battle moved to London. Jex-Blake was instrumental is setting up the London School of Medicine for Women. In 1876, the Enabling Bill gave medical examining bodies the right to admit women. Jex-Blake and Pechey did their MD in Berne, Switzerland, then sat the Irish exams with the College of Physicians in Dublin, finally becoming registered doctors in Britain. In 1877, Jex-Blake opened Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women and Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women the following year.
A plaque marking the work of the Edinburgh Seven was unveiled last year and now hangs in Surgeon’s Hall. The date differs on sources.