Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

First Woman Physician in Great Britain

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - about 1875
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - about 1875. Frederick Hollyer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dates: June 9, 1836 - December 17, 1917

Occupation: Physician

Known for: first woman to successfully complete the medical qualifying exams in Great Britain; first woman physician in Great Britain; advocate of women's suffrage and women's opportunities in higher education; first woman in England elected as mayor

Also known as: Elizabeth Garrett


Sister of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, British suffragist known for her "constitutional" approach as contrasted to the radicalism of the Pankhursts; also a friend of Emily Davies

About Elizabeth Garrett Anderson:

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was one of ten children. Her father was both a comfortable businessman and a political radical.

In 1859, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson heard a lecture by Elizabeth Blackwell on "Medicine as a Profession for Ladies." After she overcame her father's opposition and gaining his support, she entered medical training -- as a surgical nurse. She was the only woman in the class, and was banned from full participation in the operating room. When she came out first in the exams, her fellow students had her banned from lectures.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson then applied to, but was rejected by, many medical schools. She finally was admitted -- this time, for private study for an apothecary license. She had to fight a few more battles to be allowed to actually take the exam and get a license. The reaction of the Society of Apothecaries was to amend their regulations so no more women could be licensed.

Now licensed, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson opened a dispensary in London for women and children in 1866. In 1872 it became the New Hospital for Women and Children, the only teaching hospital in Britain to offer courses for women.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson learned French so that she could apply for a medical degree from the faculty of the Sorbonne, Paris. She was granted that degree in 1870. She became the first woman in Britain to be appointed to a medical post in that same year.

Also in 1870, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her friend Emily Davies both stood for election to the London School Board, an office newly opened to women. Anderson's was the highest vote among all the candidates.

She married in 1871. James Skelton Anderson was a merchant, and they had two children.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson weighed in on a medical controversy in the 1870s. She opposed those who argued that higher education resulted in overwork and thus reduced women's reproductive capacity, and that menstruation made women to weak for higher education. Instead, Anderson argued that exercise was good for women's bodies and minds.

In 1873, the British Medical Association admitted Anderson, where she was the only woman member for 19 years.

In 1874, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became a lecturer at the London School for Medicine for Women, which was founded by Sophia Jex-Blake. Anderson stayed on as dean of the school from 1883 to 1903.

In about 1893, Anderson contributed to the founding of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, with several others including M. Carey Thomas. The women contributed the funds for the medical school on the condition that the school admit women.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was also active in the women's suffrage movement. In 1866, Anderson and Davies presented petitions signed by more than 1,500 asking that women heads of household be given the vote. She was not as active as her sister, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, though 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.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was elected mayor of Aldeburgh in 1908. She gave speeches for suffrage, before the increasing militant activity in the movement led to her withdrawal. Her daughter Louisa -- also a physician -- was more active and more militant, spending time in prison in 1912 for her suffrage activities.

The New Hospital was renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in 1918 after her death in 1917. It is now part of the University of London.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Elizabeth Garrett Anderson." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/elizabeth-garrett-anderson-3529952. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/elizabeth-garrett-anderson-3529952 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Elizabeth Garrett Anderson." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/elizabeth-garrett-anderson-3529952 (accessed April 2, 2023).