“…a doctor leads two lives the professional and the private, and the boundaries between the two are never traversed.” Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (Manton, Jo.- “Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: England’s First Woman Physician.- Methuen, London, 1965)
Elizabeth was born on 9th June 1836 in Whitechapel, London. Her parents were Newson and Louisa Garrett (nee Dunnell). In 1841, the family moved to Aldeburgh in Suffolk (East Anglia, England) where they lived opposite the church until 1852. Elizabeth’s father had purchased a barley malting and coal merchant business in nearby Snape. By 1850 the business had grown sufficiently for Newson to be able to build Alde House, a mansion just outside the town.
Since there was no school in Aldeburgh at that time, Elizabeth’s early education was from her mother until a governess was engaged to teach the Garrett children when Elizabeth was ten years old. When she was thirteen, Elizabeth was sent to a boarding school in Blackheath, London run by Robert Browning’s aunt, Louisa Browning.
In 1859 Elizabeth joined the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and following a meeting with Emily Davies, feminist and co-founder of Girton College, Cambridge, she decided to train as a doctor.
The path of her chosen career was a steep one, in spite of her father’s total support. Initial opposition meant that Elizabeth first had to train as a nurse at Middlesex Hospital. She then studied anatomy and physiology with a private tutor and eventually was allowed to join dissecting and chemistry lectures at the Hospital. Her presence, however, was not welcomed by her fellow male students and she was eventually forced to leave. Applications to medical schools in Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh, St. Andrews and the Royal College of Surgeons were turned down so Elizabeth obtained a certificate in anatomy and physiology after which she was accepted by the Society of Apothecaries to study privately.
Elizabeth studied privately with some of the most noted professors of the day from the University of St. Andrews, the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital and the London Hospital Medical School. In 1865, she took her final examination and obtained a licence from the Society of Apothecaries to practise medicine, becoming the first woman in the UK to quality as a doctor and obtaining the highest marks of any of the other students. The Society thereupon changed their regulations in order to prevent other women obtaining a licence.
In spit of her qualifications, Elizabeth was not permitted to work as a doctor in any hospital so she opened her own practice at 20 Upper Berkeley Street, London. In 1865 during a cholera epidemic, Elizabeth’s prowess as a doctor won her the respect of her 3,000 patients.
When Elizabeth heard that the Dean of the University of Sorbonne in Paris had agreed to allow women to study medicine, she learnt French specially so that she could enroll. She finally obtained a degree from the Sourbonne in 1870.
In 1871, Elizabeth married James George Skelton Anderson whose uncle owned the Orient Steamship Company. Her husband must have been very pro married women working because Elizabeth was allowed to continue her career. The couple had three children, one of whom – Louisa (1873 – 1943) - became a doctor and feminist activist.
In 1873, Elizabeth became a member of the British Medical Association and was the only woman member for over nineteen year.
Elizabeth worked hard to develop the New Hospital for Women and in 1874 created the London School of Medicine for Women, serving as Dean. She also championed the cause of women’s rights, joining the British Women’s Suffrage Committee. After the death of her husband in 1907, Elizabeth travelled extensively with some of the younger members of her extended family.
Elizabeth was elected Mayor of Aldeburgh on 9th November 1908 – the first woman to hold the post of Mayor in England.
Elizabeth died in 1917 and is buried in Aldeburgh. The New Hospital for Women was renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in 1918 in her memory and amalgamated with the Obstetric Hospital in 2001 to form the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital before moving and becoming The University College Hospital Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing at UCH in London.