Friday, 4 October 2013

"The only way to prove that women can do this, that or the other with success is to go and do it"

British born Mabel Annie St Clair Stobart (1862 - 1954) is definitely high on my list of Inspirational Women.  Mabel was born in Woolwich in England on 3rd February 1862 and went on to found the Women's Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps.

In an extract from her diaries reproduced in "Women's Writing on the First World War" (pp 95 - 101), which I mentioned in an earlier posting, Mabel explains her reasons for founding the Corps.  In 1912 when the Balkan was broke out, the British Red Cross Society announced 'that there was no work fitted for women in the Balkans'. "Thus", said Mrs Stobart, "by the utterance of a few words, was the sphere of work which had been so hardly gained for women by Florence Nightingale to be taken from them'.

And so, having been training women for years 'to do all the work which concerned the sick and wounded between the field and base hospitals', Mrs Stobart 'determined to go out on my own account to the Balkans and see if it was true that there was indeed no work for women in those poorly equipped and impoverished countries.' ( p. 95).

The Queen of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Red Cross accepted Mrs Stobart's offer of help gladly. So 'three women surgeons, six trained nurses, ten orderlies, cooks, others to carry on the general work of the hospital' and Mrs Stobart as directress travelled to Kirk Kilisseh in Bulgaria to set up their hospital, which they ran for over three months.

Undoubtedly, the experience gained in the Balkan War drove Mrs Stobart to continue with her work once back in England.  However, when World War One broke out, a friend of hers - 'an eminent English surgeon' with 'mid-Victorian notions as to the sphere of work of women' (p. 101) -  informed Mrs Stobart that 'soldiers objected strongly to being nursed by women and that they would deeply resent being under the care of a woman surgeon.'

Mrs Stobart explained that she "knew that against official statements of this sort, argument by writing or talking would be ineffective.  The only way to prove that women can do this, that or the other with success is to go and do it" (p. 96).   Oh how I agree!

Does that not inspire one to redouble efforts to ensure that women's hard won independence is not eroded?

More soon.

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