Elizabeth Garrett Anderson


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson : biography

9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917

The Garretts lived in a square Georgian house opposite the church in Aldeburgh until 1852. Meanwhile, Newson’s malting business expanded and five more children were born, Alice (1842), Millicent (1847), who was to become a leader in the constitutional campaign for women’s suffrage, Sam (1850), Josephine (1853) and George (1854). By 1850, Newson was a prosperous businessman and was able to build Alde House, a mansion on a hill behind Aldeburgh. A “by-product of the industrial revolution”,Manton, p. 28 Garrett grew up in an atmosphere of “triumphant economic pioneering” and the Garrett children were to grow up to become achievers in the professional classes of late-Victorian England. Garrett was encouraged to take an interest in local politics and, contrary to practices at the time, was allowed the freedom to explore the town with its nearby salt-marshes, beach and the small port of Slaughden with its boatbuilders’ yards and sailmakers’ lofts. Thus, Garrett was as at ease among the upper classes as she was among the fishing folk of the area also enjoyed good health, which she maintained throughout her life.Manton, pp. 28–32

Early education

There was no school in Aldeburgh so Garrett learned the three Rs from her mother. Later, when she was 10 years old, a governess, Miss Edgeworth, a poor gentlewoman, was employed to educate Garrett and her sister. Mornings were spent in the schoolroom; there were regimental afternoon walks; educating the young ladies continued at mealtimes when Edgeworth ate with the family; at night, the governess slept in a curtained off area in the girls’ bedroom. Garrett despised her governess and sought to outwit the teacher in the classroom.Manton, pp. 32–33 Newson wanted to give his children the best education possible so when Garrett was 13 and her sister 15, they were sent to a private school, the Boarding School for Ladies in Blackheath, London, which was run by the stepaunts of the poet Robert Browning.Manton, p. 33 There, English literature, French, Italian and German, as well as deportment, were taught. Later in life, Garrett recalled the stupidity of her teachers there, though her schooling there did help establish a love of reading. Her reading matter included Tennyson, Wordsworth, Milton, Coleridge, Trollope, Thackeray and George Eliot. Elizabeth and Louie were known as “the bathing Garretts”, as their father had insisted they be allowed a hot bath once a week.Manton, pp. 35–36 However, they made what were to be lifelong friends there. When they finished in 1851, they were sent on a short tour abroad, ending with a memorable visit to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London.

After this formal education, Garrett spent the next nine years tending to domestic duties, but with her lively mind, energy and vigour, the prospect of a solely domestic existence would not satisfy her, so she continued to study Latin and arithmetic in the mornings and also read widely. Her sister Millicent recalled Garrett’s weekly lectures, “Talks on Things in General”, when her younger siblings would gather her while she discussed politics and current affairs from Garibaldi to Macauley’s History of England.Manton, p. 44 In 1854, when she was eighteen, Garrett and her sister went on a long visit to their school friends, Jane and Anne Crow, in Gateshead. There, she met Emily Davies, the early feminist and future co-founder of Girton College, Cambridge. Davis was to be a lifelong friend and confidante, always ready to give sound advice during the important decisions of Garrett’s career. It may have been in the English Woman’s Journal, first issued in 1858, that Garrett first read of Elizabeth Blackwell, who had become the first female doctor in the United States in 1849. When Blackwell visited London in 1859, Garrett travelled to the capital. By then, her sister Louie was married and living in London. Garrett joined the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, which organized Blackwell’s lectures on “Medicine as a Profession for Ladies” and set up a private meeting between Garrett and the doctor.Manton, pp. 50–52 It is said that during a visit to Alde House around 1860, one evening while sitting by the fireside, Garrett and Davies selected careers for advancing the frontiers of women’s rights; Garrett was to open the medical profession to women, Davies the doors to a university education for women, while 13-year-old Millicent was allocated politics and votes for women.Manton, p. 72 At first Newson was opposed to the radical idea of his daughter becoming a physician but eventually came round and agreed to do all in his power, both financially and otherwise, to support Garrett in the long uphill battle.Manton, pp. 73–76


The New Hospital for Women was renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in 1918 and amalgamated with the Obstetric Hospital in 2001 to form the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital . uclh.nhs.uk before relocating to become the University College Hospital Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing at UCH.

The former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital buildings are being incorporated into the design and structure of the new National Headquarters for the public service trade union UNISON.

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery, a permanent installation set within the restored former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital building that now forms part of the new UNISON Centre, uses a variety of media to set the story of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, her hospital, and women’s struggle to achieve equality in the field of medicine within the wider framework of 19th and 20th century social history.

There is a secondary school in Islington, London which is named after her: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College For Girls.