Elizabeth Garrett Anderson


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson : biography

9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917

BMA membership

In 1873 she gained membership of the British Medical Association and remained the only female member for 19 years, due to the Association’s vote against the admission of further women – "one of several instances where Garrett, uniquely, was able to enter a hitherto all male medical institution which subsequently moved formally to exclude any women who might seek to follow her."M. A. Elston, , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2005. In 1897, Garrett Anderson was elected president of the East Anglian branch of the British Medical Association.Manton, pp. 235–236

Garrett Anderson worked steadily at the development of the New Hospital for Women, and (from 1874) at the creation of the London School of Medicine for Women. Both institutions have since been handsomely and suitably housed and equipped, the New Hospital for Women (in the Euston Road) for many years being worked entirely by medical women, and the schools (in Hunter Street, WC1) having over 200 students, most of them preparing for the medical degree of London University (the present-day University College London), which was opened to women in 1877.

On 9 November 1908, she was elected mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor in England.:File:Lady mayoress.jpg She died in 1917 and is buried in Aldeburgh.


The archives of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson are held at The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University, ref The archives of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (formerly the New Hospital for Women) are held at the London Metropolitan Archives.. ref H13/EGA. cityoflondon.gov.uk

Medical education

After an initial unsuccessful visit to leading doctors in Harley Street, Garrett decided to first spend six months as a hospital nurse at Middlesex Hospital, London in 1860.Manton, pp. 82–93 On proving to be a good nurse, she was allowed to attend an outpatients’ clinic, then her first operation. She unsuccessfully attempted to enroll in the hospital’s Medical School but was allowed to attend private tuition in Latin, Greek and materia medica with the hospital’s apothecary, while continuing her work as a nurse. She also employed a tutor to study anatomy and physiology three evenings a week. Eventually she was allowed into the dissecting room and the chemistry lectures. Gradually, Garrett became an unwelcome presence among the male students who in 1861, presented a memorial to the school against her admittance as a fellow student.Manton, pp. 104–110 She was obliged to leave Middlesex Hospital but she did so with an honours certificate in chemistry and materia medica. Garrett then applied to several medical schools, including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Royal College of Surgeons, all of which refused her admittance.Manton, pp. 114–115 Meanwhile, she privately obtained a certificate in anatomy and physiology. In 1862, she was finally admitted for private study by the Society of Apothecaries. During the next three years, she continued her battle to qualify by studying privately with various professors, including some at the University of St Andrews, the Edinburgh Royal Maternity and the London Hospital Medical School. In 1865, she finally took her exam and obtained a licence from the Society of Apothecaries to practise medicine, the first woman qualified in Britain to do so (apart from the woman passing herself off as Dr James Barry). On the day, three out of seven candidates passed the exam, Garrett with the highest marks.Manton, pp. 162–163 The Society of Apothecaries immediately amended its regulations to prevent other women obtaining a licence.Manton, p. 176

Early life

Elizabeth Garrett was born on 9 June 1836 in London, the second of eleven children of Newson Garrett (1812–1893), from Leiston, Suffolk, and his wife, Louisa née Dunnell (1813–1903), from London.Manton, p. 20

The Garrett ancestors had been ironworkers in East Suffolk since the early seventeenth century.Manton, p. 17 Newson was the youngest of three sons and not academically inclined, although he possessed the family’s entrepreneurial spirit. When he finished school, the town of Leiston offered little to Newson, so he left for London to make his fortune. There, he fell in love with his brother’s sister-in-law, Louisa Dunnell, the daughter of an innkeeper of Suffolk origin. After their wedding, the couple went to live in a pawnbroker’s shop at 1 Commercial Road, Whitechapel. The Garretts had their first three children in quick succession: Louie, Elizabeth and their brother (Newson Dunnell) who died at the age of six months. While Louisa grieved the loss of her third child, it was not easy to raise their two daughters in the London of that time.Manton, p. 22 When Garrett was 3 years old, the family moved to 142 Long Acre, where they were to live for 2 years, whilst two more children were born and her father moved up in the world, becoming not only the manager of a larger pawnbroker’s shop, but also a silversmith.Manton, p. 23 Garrett’s grandfather, owner of the family engineering works, Richard Garrett & Sons, had died in 1837, leaving the business to his eldest son, Garrett’s uncle. Despite his lack of capital, Newson was determined to be successful and in 1841, at the age of 29, he moved his family and devoted wife again, this time back to Suffolk, where he bought a barley and coal merchants business in Snape, constructing a fine range of buildings for malting barley.Manton, p. 25