On this day in history : 9th November 1908 – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson becomes Britain’s first woman Mayor – when she is elected at Aldesburgh, Suffolk….

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson as Mayor of Aldeburgh, November 1908 – Unknown photographer, public domain

This in itself was no mean feat – but then this was a truly remarkable woman…. Elizabeth Garrett was born in Whitechapel, East London in 1836; she was one of twelve children and the daughter of a pawnbroker…. Elizabeth’s father became a successful businessman and was able to provide a good education for his children – the expectation being that Elizabeth would complete her studies and then marry, settle down and live the life of a lady…. However, it was upon meeting Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female to qualify as a doctor in the United States, that Elizabeth decided she had to become a doctor herself…. (Elizabeth Blackwell was herself an Englishwoman who had emigrated to America as a child)….

Portrait of Elizabeth, 1860s – Unknown, public domain

At a time when women were not even allowed to attend university, the trained medical world was completely male dominated – therefore, it was hardly surprising that Elizabeth was unable to find a medical school that would offer her a place…. Undeterred she enrolled as a nursing student at the Middlesex Hospital – studying alongside male colleagues, some of whom made complaints about her presence – and so she was banned….

Elizabeth needed to find a back door method of gaining a qualification….which indeed she did via the Society of Apothecaries…. They had no stipulations as to who could sit their entrance exam – and so in 1865 she did – and passed…. The Society then changed the rules to prevent any more women from taking the exam!

In 1866, with her father’s backing Elizabeth established St. Mary’s Dispensary, London – at which she acted as a medical attendant…. Still determined to become a doctor she taught herself French, then attended university in Paris and gained a medical degree…. And yet the British Medical Board still refused her….

Elizabeth Garrett before the Faculty of Medicine, Paris – Unknown, public domain

Elizabeth married James Anderson in 1871 and together they had three children…. But even becoming a wife and mother was not going to stop her from fulfilling her ambition…. In 1870 Elizabeth had been given the position of visiting physician to the East London Hospital for Children….making her the first woman in Britain to be appointed to an official medical post…. In 1872 she co-founded the New Hospital for Women – which was later to become the London School of Medicine for Women….

In 1876 an Act was passed in Parliament, finally permitting women to enter the medical profession…. Due to her constant campaigning Elizabeth had a huge influence on enabling this to happen…. In 1883 she was appointed Dean at the London School of Medicine for Women – which she had helped to set up….

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson circa 1889 – Walery, public domain

Elizabeth retired in 1902 – to Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast…. A retirement well deserved; not only in her working lifetime had she achieved becoming Britain’s first woman doctor – she was also an active member of the Suffragette Movement (as was her daughter, Louisa)…. But even in her so-called ‘retirement’ she wasn’t yet finished with making history….as six years later she was to become Britain’s First Lady Mayor….

NPG x32106; Elizabeth Garrett Anderson; Emmeline Pankhurst by Unknown photographer
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson with Emmeline Pankhurst by Unknown photographer, bromide press print, 18 November 1910 – Public domain

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson died in December 1917…. In 1918 the London School of Medicine for Women changed its name to The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital…. It is now part of the University of London….

(c) Royal Free Hospital; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Portrait circa 1900 – attributed to Reginald Grenville Eves – Public domain

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