former London School of Medicine for Women

A Medical School for Women in London was founded in 1874 by a group of women, led by Sophia Jex-Blake. After being expelled by the Edinburgh Medical School her project to found in London "a women's medical school rapidly gained momentum. Sophia moved to London and opened a temporary office in Wimpole Street as headquarters for the group. Edinburgh friends of the medical women's movement gave generous financial help when they heard of the plans, and additional contributions came from friends in other parts of the country. Almost the only adverse response was that of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She thought the move premature and doomed to failure, and for this reason she was reluctant to have her name associated with it"1. Afterwards Elizabeth changed her mind and was Dean of the School from 1883 to 19032.

Meanwhile - in Sophia's own account - "I succeded in finding wonderfully suitable premises, in the shape of a very old-fashioned house in Henrietta Street [renamed Handel Street in 1888]3, Brunswick Square, with spacious ground-floor rooms, and long frontage to a walled garden of a size very unusual in the centre of London. On the upper floor were a series of rooms suitable for museums, library, reading-room, etc. I got a lease of the house in September, in conjunction with Mr Norton, and on October 12th, 1874, the School was actually opened"4. In 1877, the School became affiliated with the Royal Free Hospital: women "who wished to study medicine were now assured of complete theoretical and practical training, as well as the right to qualify and become registered"5.

In 1896 "the Executive Council of the London School of Medicine for Women announced plans for a much larger new building. The School was enjoying such success that it had outgrown its original premises. The proposal was initiated by the Dean, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, but she had the full support of the Council"6. But the plan was opposed by Sophia Jex-Blake (at that time again in Edinburgh), who considered it "reckless extravagance" and shortly after resigned from the Council and severed "her last connection with the School she had founded twenty-four years before"7.

At the turn of the century the school moved to purpose-built premises on the same site. This handsome neo-Baroque red brick building with a stone classical doorcase survives today8, as a seat of a public health care center.

  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (July 2011)

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