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Radical Woman of the Day: Sophia Jex-Blake

On this day in 1840 was born Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake, one of the first female doctors in the United Kingdom and founder of two medical schools for women and a women’s hospital.

Despite opposition from her parents, Jex-Blake attended Queen’s College, London, where she became a mathematics tutor while still enrolled. She earned no wages while occupying this post because her father would not give her permission to accept a salary.

During a trip to the United States, Jex-Blake visited several different schools and the New England Hospital for Women and Children, where she met one of the country’s earliest female doctors and herself worked for a short time as an assistant. As a result of this experience, she decided to go into medicine. Rejected from Harvard, she planned to enroll in Elizabeth Blackwell’s new medical school in New York but had to return to England upon the unexpected death of her father.

Unable to find an English medical school that would accept her, Jex-Blake began attending Edinburgh University along with six other women, the first batch of female medical students permitted to attend a British university. Forced to fund their own lectures apart from the male students, these pioneers faced significant opposition from faculty, students, and the town, and eventually realized the university was never going to grant them degrees.

Moving on from Edinburgh, Jex-Blake helped found the London School of Medicine for Women before finally being awarded an MD from the University of Bern in 1877 and licensed to practice medicine in the United Kingdom a few months later by the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians of Ireland.

Jex-Blake later founded the Bruntsfield Hospital for Women and the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women. She practiced medicine until her retirement in 1899.

Via the Radical Women’s History Project.