On this day, 9 June, in 1836 Britain’s first female doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was born. The blue plaque of her medical practice proudly stands in the Marble Arch area at 20 Upper Berkeley Street, W1H 7PF.
Anderson, a London-native born in Whitechapel, was a radical pioneer for women’s rights and achieved many “firsts” in her lifetime, including the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first ever MD degree for a woman from the University of Paris, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain as Mayor of Aldeburgh in Suffolk.
We’re proud that this impressive and determined woman chose the Marble Arch and Edgware road area as the home for her family, as well as her patients. In fact, you can visit the English Heritage blue plaque for yourself at 20 Upper Berkeley Street, W1.
Her road to success was not an easy one. Despite her outstanding marks and education, all of Anderson’s applications to medical colleges, teaching hospitals and universities were turned down. Not one to be defeated, she decided to become a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. Although this was less prestigious than an MD or doctorate of medicine, it was her only route. When she applied, the Society refused her. Yet, her father – a prosperous businessman – threatened to sue unless they allowed her to sit her exams, which she passed with flying colours. Upon seeing her knowledge and talent, the Society revised its rules to keep women out and accepted Anderson.
It was in Marble Arch that Anderson opened and operated the St Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children in 1866 – a hospital only for women, staffed only by women. The hospital – located at 69 Seymour Place, W1H – was hugely popular, drawing crowds of women from all over. In only six short years, her Marble Arch dispensary became the New Hospital for Women. When she died in 1917 aged 81 her London hospital was renamed after her in her honour.
As an active suffragette, Anderson was located in prime position as Marble Arch monument was a central rally point for women’s freedom movement. In fact, most people know of her sister as the one of the most prominent suffragette leaders – Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Although not as largely known, Anderson was an active suffragette. She offered petitions with over 1,500 signatures demanding rights for women and was a member of the first British Women’s Suffrage Committee and Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage.
We’re proud that so many inspiring women have come from, made their name and succeeded in the Marble Arch and Edgware Road area throughout history. Here’s to many more! Read about more inspiring local women on our Culture Blog for historical insight and Hidden Heroes for present day heroines.