Women's History

Jex-Blake, Sophia | Medical Women

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  • Second edition (originally published in 1872) and a nice association copy, inscribed in 1928 from Louie M. Brooks, Secretary and Warden of the London School of Medicine for Women, the institution founded by author Sophia Jex-Blake as the first medical school in Britain to allow women to fully qualify as physicians. Copies of both the first two editions are scarce on the market.

    Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912) “spent most of her life fighting for a career in medicine for herself and for other women” (Ogilvie, Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, p 657). She was close friends with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, whom she assisted in trying to enter the medical school at the University of Edinburgh. In 1868 Jex-Blake herself began studying medicine under Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the United States, but was forced to return to Britain after her father fell ill. After a strenuous campaign, she and four other women were admitted into the medical school at Edinburgh in 1869, but they faced increasing obstacles. Most of the professors refused to teach them anatomy, and there was aggression from male students, including a mob that tried to prevent them from entering Surgeon’s Hall. Finally in 1872 the University insisted that it would not award them degrees, but only certificates of proficiency, leading to a lengthy court case and the passing of an Act of Parliament that allowed medical examining bodies to test women.

    “Meanwhile, Jex-Blake had founded the London School of Medicine for Women (1874), with a staff of respected lecturers. She herself was granted the legal right to practice medicine in Great Britain by the Irish College of Physicians in 1877. She began practising in Edinburgh in 1878, founded the Women’s Hospital there in 1885, and in 1886 organised the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women” (Ogilvie).

    Medical Women is a history of women’s participation in the field, from the ancient world through the medieval and early modern periods, but its main focus is the ‘Battle of Edinburgh”, as Jex-Blake calls it. The first edition was published in 1872, the year in which Edinburgh rejected the women’s demand for full degrees, so this second edition, published in 1886, has been updated with a significant amount of new material covering the lengthy court cases and the establishment of the London School.

    This copy was presented as a gift from Louie M. Brooks, who in 1910 is recorded as the Secretary and Warden of the London School (https://wellcomecollection.org/works/wcgpsubv). She was presumably still working at the school in this or some other capacity when the book was gifted in 1928, as she includes the institution’s formal name, “London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women”, under her signature (the school had been consolidated with the Royal Free in 1896). The identity of the recipient of this copy, S. G. Rawson, is unclear, but the name appears in the Journal of Education for 1904 as Director of Education for Worcestershire, and there is an 1884 letter of recommendation for an S. G. Rawson connected with the University of Liverpool in the National Archives (https://archive.org/stream/journalofeducati3619unse/journalofeducati3619unse_djvu.txt  & https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/733ef856-7060-4b25-914a-32b1688bde0a).

  • ...A Thesis and a History. Edinburgh: Oliphant Anderson, & Ferrier. London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1886.

    Octavo. Original red cloth, titles to spine and upper board gilt. Separately paginated 100-page appendix, 4 pages of ads at rear. Spine faded with wear at the head and tail, some dulling and spots to the cloth, occasional faint spots to contents. Very good condition.