Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett was born in Whitechapel, East London, in 1836, one of the 12 children of Louisa and Newson Garrett. During her childhood her father became a successful businessman, enabling him to send his children to good schools. After school she was expected to marry well and live the life of a lady. However meetings with the suffragette Emily Davies and Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman physician, convinced Elizabeth Garrett that she should become a doctor.

This was almost unheard of in 19th century Britain and her attempts to study at a number of medical schools were declined. She became a nursing student at Middlesex Hospital and attended classes for male doctors. Although these were not exclusively for men, she was stopped from going after complaints from other students. As the Society of Apothecaries were not specifically against women taking their examinations, in 1865 she passed their exams and gained a certificate which enabled her to become a doctor. The Society then changed its rules to prevent other women entering the profession this way.

With her father’s support, in 1866 she established a dispensary for women in London and in 1870 was made a visiting physician to the East London Hospital. Here she met James Anderson, a successful businessman, whom she married in 1871 and with whom she had three children, Louisa Garrett Anderson, Margaret Skelton Anderson, who died at the age of one, and Alan Garrett Anderson.

She remained determined to obtain a medical degree, so she taught herself French and went to the University of Paris, where she successfully earned her degree. The British Medical Register refused to recognise her qualification.

In 1872, Anderson founded the New Hospital for Women in London (later renamed after its founder), staffed entirely by women. Anderson appointed her friend and mentor, Elizabeth Blackwell, as professor of gynaecology there.

Anderson’s determination paved the way for other women, and in 1876 an act was passed permitting women to enter the medical professions. In 1883 Anderson was appointed dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, which she had helped to found in 1874.

In 1902, Anderson retired to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. In 1908, a year after her husband died, she became the mayor of the town, the first female mayor in England. She was a member of the suffragette movement and her daughter Louisa was also a prominent suffragette. She died on 17 December 1917.

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson collection at the Ipswich branch (HA436) contains correspondence between Elizabeth and her family as well as letters to Emily Davies; photographs and glass plate negatives; press cuttings and copies of articles. Ipswich also holds a leaflet produced by the Moot Hall Museum about her life – HD2272/2/11/1