While in London, I visited the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery. The gallery is the restored first floor ward and entrance to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and contains fascinating information and displays about England’s first female physicians. Who was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson?
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was one of England’s first female physicians. She helped found hospitals for impoverished women and co-founded the first medical school for women in London. She paved the way for ambitious women, like Abbie Sharp in my Ripper series, who wanted to be doctors. During Abbie Sharp’s era, Dr. Anderson’s hospital was called the New Hospital for Women and was renamed later the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. Dr. Anderson’s charity hospital for women was similar to Whitechapel Hospital in Ripper, except that all of the physicians and nurses were women.
In Ripper, Lady Westfield wishes for Abbie to volunteer at Whitechapel Hospital because it is “vogue” for young women to participate in “charitable services.” Victorian women, when they did work outside the home, were expected be philanthropic, merely caregivers extending their “innate” nurturing qualities to the public. Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson firmly distanced herself and her medical students from this stereotype. In 1867, Dr. Anderson stated, “I am strongly in favor of taking the work done by women out of the region of philanthropy. Of course, the real motive of anyone doing the work I do is the desire to gain knowledge. You are glad, and incidentally the poor are cured.” By the 1880’s her medical school was every bit as rigorous and professional as medical schools for men; her female medical students would have studied in New Hospital’s operating theater and surgical wards, completing their clinicals at the Royal Free Hospital.
New Hospital for Women
Most of the hospitals during the Victorian period were unsanitary and unpleasant. Dr. Anderson was very concerned that her hospital was well-ventilated and bright. Dr. Anderson’s sister, the celebrated interior designer Agnes Garrett, designed many of the rooms and fireplaces in the hospital, using blue as a calming accent. Lovely blue print tiles frame the fireplace in the entrance hall and accented the walls in the wards. Hospital beds were well-spaced, large windows cast light throughout the rooms, and fresh flowers rested near beds.
The bag in the photograph is similar to the type of medical bags that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson would have used to visit patients outside of the hospital. It would have contained medicine bottles, syringes, any instruments necessary for a house call. The photograph of the entrance hall to the hospital looks exactly as it would have during Abbie Sharp’s time at New Hospital with the exception of an enormous statue that Anderson likely gave to one of the hospital’s donors. The doll in the photograph was used during the 1930’s to teach female medical students.
The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and India
Dr. Anderson’s hospital not only improved the lives of Londoners, but as the hospital grew, her physicians traveled internationally. Strict cultural rules in India prevented women from being cared for by male physicians. Particularly, after New Hospital became the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, many qualified female medical students worked as physicians in India after completing their degrees.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the Suffragist Movement
Although one of Dr. Anderson’s sisters, Millicent Fawcett, was an active suffragist, Anderson herself didn’t participate in the suffragist movement until her retirement. She worried that too many ties to the campaign would harm the reputation of her hospital, and it was a savvy political move, particularly since New Hospital relied so much on donations. Nonetheless, her work demonstrated her unceasing belief in the essential equality of genders.