Anderson was renowned in her day for being a woman of tremendous strength and wit, who had no patience for nonsense. Her father, an affluent businessman from Aldeburgh in Suffolk, thought that girls should receive the same level of education as boys. As such, she received schooling at home then spent some time attending a boarding school meant exclusively for females.
When Elizabeth announced her dream to become a doctor, her father was proud but her mother couldn’t contain her shock. The medical world refused to accept female doctors or surgeons and all of Elizabeth’s applications were denied by teaching hospitals and universities alike. Yet despite this adversity, she knew that with sheer determination she could fulfill the calling within herself.
In an effort to practice medicine, Mary tried infiltrating the Middlesex Hospital in London as a nurse – but it was unsuccessful. She then decided on becoming a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries which granted her permission to be medically trained and practicing; although not as prestigious for women compared with MDs or Doctorates of Medicine. Her father’s threat to sue the Society spurred them into allowing her access, until she passed all exams in 1865. Unfortunately, they soon altered their regulations so that no other woman would ever again obtain this same opportunity.
In 1866, Elizabeth established the St Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children in London’s Marylebone district – a hospital dedicated to women with female personnel that quickly filled up with impoverished patients. An impressive feat in itself, she later went on to become the first woman ever awarded a medical degree from the University of Paris in 1870. Her original dispensary then transformed into New Hospital for Women two years later in 1872.
In 1871, Elizabeth wed James George Skelton Anderson — the head of a large shipping business and an ardent advocate for married women’s independence. This event served as a catalyst for change. In 1874, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was an influential part in setting up the London School of Medicine for Women and continued to teach there for many years. She also supported suffragettes during their fight for equal rights.
In 1902, she and her spouse retired to Aldeburgh. In 1908, Mrs. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was elected mayor – becoming Britain’s first female mayor. After her passing in 1917 at the age of 81, a hospital in London was renamed in her honor to recognize her achievements.
As we celebrate National Women Physician Day, let us take a moment to honor the many achievements of female physicians throughout history. From Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, to Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, to Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, these pioneering women have made invaluable contributions to the medical profession and helped pave the way for future generations of female physicians. This day honors the hard work, courage, and dedication women have contributed to the medical field.
We can continue to celebrate and recognize the achievements of women in medicine by supporting organizations dedicated to empowering female physicians, such as the American Medical Women’s Association. Show your support and help promote gender equality in the medical profession today.
As per Statista’s June report, an estimated 37% of US physicians are women and Washington D.C has the highest proportion.