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'This vexed question': 500 years of women in medicine :: Kristin Hussey

  • Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, Holborn Library 32-38 Theobalds Road London, WC1X 8PA UK (map)

In 1870, a group of female medical students known as the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ campaigned for their right to graduate from the University of Edinburgh. Writing in The Scotsman, one commentator bemoaned the ‘vexed question’ of women in medicine. Should women be allowed to train as doctors? Were they physically and mentally capable? Was there space for them in the profession? How would their male colleagues react?

The year 2018 marks 500 years since the foundation of the Royal College of Physicians and 100 years since (some) women were given the right to vote. To mark this momentous occasion, the Museum of the RCP will be hosting an exhibition which explores 500 years of the often fraught relationship of women medical practitioners and the medical establishment. Indeed, the RCP was one of the last major medical organisations to admit female members, the first joining in 1909.

In this talk, Kristin Hussey will reflect on the long history of women in medicine, drawing out some of the different rationales behind the exclusion of female practitioners over the past five centuries. She will illuminate the contributions of some well-known and other more hidden women, guided by the RCP’s collections. Finally, she will consider how the question of what it means to be a woman and a doctor remains a vexing challenge for the practitioners of today.

Kristin Hussey is Curator at the Royal College of Physicians.

Free to members. Non-members welcome (£1 at the door).