International Women's Day 2016
04 Mar 2016
In celebration of International Women's Day on Tuesday 8 March 2016, we would like to share some of the items in our collections that relate to the pioneering women who led the way for women to qualify as practising surgeons and members of the RCS.
Prior to the 1876 Medical Act, women in the UK were not permitted to qualify as doctors or surgeons, but that did not deter all of them. James Barry (c.1795 - 1865) lived her life disguised as a man, practising medicine from early adulthood until her death. Although James Barry is typically referred to by ‘his’ masculine alias, Dr Barry is acknowledged as the first qualified female surgeon in the UK, and our examination records show that she passed her regimental assistant surgeon exam at the College in 1813.
During the nineteenth century, the question of women doctors was increasingly discussed, as our collection of medical pamphlets attest.
In 1895 the College received a petition to allow women to study at the RCS. This petition was led by none other than Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first Englishwoman to qualify openly as a physician and surgeon, and her name appears as the first signature on the petition itself.
However, it was not until 1908 that the RCS polled its existing Members and Fellows on whether women should be admitted to the College. This postal poll was successful, and in 1909 the RCS approved the admission of women to the College, with Dossibai Patel becoming our first female Member (MRCS) in 1910. We are grateful for this picture of Dossibai which has been provided by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Archives.
A year later, in 1911, Eleanor Davies-Colley became the female Fellow (FRCS) of the College. In 1919 there were only four women Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; by 1990 this number had risen to 320, and by 2009 to 1184, with an additional 1889 Members.
Today, the Women in Surgery programme works “to encourage, enable and inspire women to fulfil their surgical ambitions”.
Sophie Gibbs, Senior Information Assistant