Women and their role in healthcare

With recently published statistics indicating record numbers of women practicing medicine in Britain it is difficult to evoke the difficulties and obstructions women faced in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, in qualifying and practicing as doctors.

In Britain there was widespread prejudice against women entering any of the medical professions, and in many quarters against their receiving any higher education. A medical career was considered by the male establishment to be far too hard, both physically and intellectually, for women. Women were too temperamental and emotional to be capable of the dispassionate judgements that the practice of medicine would demand. The practice of medicine was completely at odds with the ‘nature’ of women, and any woman who undertook it would become ‘unnatural’ and ‘masculine’. You simply couldn’t be both a proper woman and a proper doctor. All kinds of false theories were given during this period including  that the profession would interfere with women’s fertility.

Women’s struggle for equal rights in the medical profession was a long and difficult road, but due to the work and dedication of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Elizabeth Blackwell and Sophia Jex-Blake it became easier for other women to train as doctors.

It was not until 1876 that an Act of Parliament was passed allowing women to train as doctors. Up until then women could only train as nurses. The struggle for equal rights was long and difficult, but it was due to the work and dedication of three principle women: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Elizabeth Blackwell and Sophia Jex Blake. The Mothers' Hospital in Lower Clapton Road was one of the few all-female hospitals.


Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Women and their role in healthcare' page
This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 23/03/2010.

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