Early female doctors

The three women in my Bluestockings series were based on real women, including my great grandmother, Caroline Josephine d’Ancona, who graduated from the University of Breda in 1910 as a doctor.

To Charm A Bluestocking Cover

The first woman doctor in Holland was Aletta Jacobs who graduated from University of Groningen in 1879. There were only a handful of female doctors who graduated in Holland prior to 1910, perhaps 20 in total in those years between 1879 and 1910. This small number was not due to the universities reluctance, but more because most women were only given a basic primary education. In England, women had both the issue of lack of initial education, and gender inequality to deal with.

In America, the first woman to achieve a medical degree was Elizabeth Blackwell, who graduated from Hobart College, New York in 1849. She spent two years travelling in Europe, studying at various teaching hospitals, and unfortunately lost her eye while caring for a patient. She returned to America in 1851, where she started a small practice and was soon after joined by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, and her sister Emily. Later, she worked with Garrett Anderson and Jex-Blake at the London School of Medicine for Women.

The first woman to graduate in England was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who passed her examinations in 1865, but wasn’t allowed to call herself a doctor until the new Medical Act in 1876 removed the gender restriction. There were only two women graduates in this time, the other being Sophia Jex-Blake and both had been refused entry to many different universities. The Hope Scholarship debacle occurred at Edinburgh University in the mid-1870s when Miss Pechey was awarded the university prize, but the Board declined to give it to her as she was female. She left, and finished her degree in Germany in 1877. Their long battle with the establishments is the reason why I chose Amsterdam for my three bluestocking; as Europe was more open to female students and to female doctors once they graduated. Garrett Anderson and Jex-Blake opened the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874, and female students could do their practical training at the Royal Free Hospital by 1877. In 1886, Sophia Jex-Blake opened the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women. Graduates of these schools found it difficult to get proper work as doctors in England, while in Holland, female graduates only suffered the usual gender inequity (being paid less than male doctors, harassment, etc) but still found work as doctors. Many graduates of the English schools ended up doing only nursing work, or missionary work.

You can buy the first in my Bluestocking series – To Charm a Bluestocking – from Escape Publishing.

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