Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson bigraphy, stories - English physician and feminist

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson : biography

9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, LSA, MD (9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917), was an English physician and feminist, the first Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain, the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first female M.D. in France, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain.

Personal life

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson once remarked that “a doctor leads two lives, the professional and the private, and the boundaries between the two are never traversed”.Manton, p. 261 In 1871, she married Manton, pp. 217–218 James George Skelton Anderson (d. 1907) of the Orient Steamship Company co-owned by his uncle Arthur Anderson, but she did not give up her medical practice. She had three children, Louisa (1873–1943), Margaret (1874–1875), who died of meningitis, and Alan (1877–1952). Louisa also became a pioneering doctor of medicine and feminist activist. They retired to Aldeburgh in 1902 Manton, p. 331 and moved to Alde House in 1903, after the death of Elizabeth’s mother. Skelton died of stroke in 1907. She enjoyed a happy marriage and in later life, devoted time to Alde House, gardening, and travelling with younger members of the extended family.

Women’s Suffrage Movement

Garrett Anderson was also active in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1866, Garrett Anderson and Davies presented petitions signed by more than 1,500 asking that female heads of household be given the vote.Manton, p. 171 She was not as active as her sister, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, though Garrett Anderson became a member of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1889. After her husband’s death in 1907, she became more active. As mayor of Aldeburgh, she gave speeches for suffrage, before the increasing militant activity in the movement led to her withdrawal.Manton, pp. 338–345 Her daughter Louisa, also a physician, was more active and more militant, spending time in prison in 1912 for her suffrage activities.Manton, p. 345


Though she was now a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, as a woman, Garrett could not take up a medical post in any hospital. So in late 1865, Garrett opened her own practice at 20 Upper Berkeley Street, London.Manton, pp. 167–169 At first, patients were scarce but the practice gradually grew. After six months in practice, she wished to open an outpatients dispensary, to enable poor women to obtain medical help from a qualified practitioner of their own gender. In 1865, there was outbreak of cholera in Britain, affecting both rich and poor, and in their panic, some people forgot any prejudices they had in relation to a female physician. The first death due to cholera occurred in 1866, but by then Garrett had already opened St. Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children, at 69 Seymour Place.Manton, p. 173 In the first year, she tended to 3,000 new patients, who made 9,300 outpatient visits to the dispensary.Manton, p. 175 On hearing that the Dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Sorbonne, Paris was in favour of admitting women as medical students, Garrett studied French so that she could apply for a medical degree, which she obtained in 1870., BBC, Last updated: 2 January 2008

The same year she was elected to the first London School Board, an office newly opened to women; Garrett’s was the highest vote among all the candidates. Also in that year, she was made one of the visiting physicians of the East London Hospital for Children, becoming the first woman in Britain to be appointed to a medical post,Manton, pp. 193–195 but she found the duties of these two positions to be incompatible with her principal work in her private practice and the dispensary, as well as her role as a new mother, so she resigned from these posts by 1873.Manton, p. 235 In 1872, the dispensary became the New Hospital for Women and Children, treating women from all over London for gynaecological conditions; the hospital moved to new premises in Marylebone Street in 1874. Around this time, Garrett also entered into discussion with male medical views regarding women. In 1874, Henry Maudsley’s article on Sex and Mind in Education, which argued that education for women caused over-exertion and thus reduced their reproductive capacity, sometimes causing “nervous and even mental disorders”.Manton, p. 236 Garrett’s counter-argument was that the real danger for women was not education but boredom and that fresh air and exercise were preferable to sitting by the fire with a novel.Manton, p. 237 In the same year, she co-founded London School of Medicine for Women with Sophie Jex-Blake and became a lecturer in what was the only teaching hospital in Britain to offer courses for women.Manton, pp. 241–243 She continued to work there for the rest of her career and was as dean of the school from 1883 to 1902. This school was later called the Royal Free Hospital of Medicine,Manton, p. 308 which later became part of what is now the medical school of University College London.