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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Sophia Jex-Blake

After four years studying medicine at Boston, Massachusetts with Elizabeth Blackwell among others the English daughter of a lawyer, Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912), wished to continue her studies in England. However she found that medical schools in England would not admit women, and the Society of Apothecaries had closed the loophole that enabled Elizabeth Garrett to qualify and practice in Britain.

A determined and tempestuous and abrasive personality, Jex-Blake embarked on a vigorous campaign for acceptance into Edinburgh University in Scotland to study medicine. After initially persuading the university to allow separate classes for women, Jex-Blake and four other female students encountered opposition from lecturers who refused to them. When the five ladies attempted to enter Surgeon's Hall, their fellow students broke out in a riot.

Jex-Blake was forced to take legal action in an attempt to force the university to allow herself and her four colleagues to admit the women to degree examinations. However in 1873 the judgement went against her.

Her battles and humiliations did manage to alter public opinion and by the following year Jex-Blake had gathered enough support to fund the opening of the London School of Medicine for Women.

Further progress was made in 1876 when the Russell Gurney Enabling Act was passed by Parliament permitting women in Britain to receive a medical degree and a license to practice medicine and surgery. However it was only in 1894 that the University of Edinburgh opened its doors to female medical students.

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