Student finds historic letter from women's rights campaigner

A PhD student at the University of St Andrews has discovered a letter pleading with the institution to allow women to study medicine and written by one of the pioneers of the fight to allow female access to higher education.

March 11, 2012

The correspondence was penned in 1873 by Sophia Jex-Blake, a campaigner for female admittance to British universities who eventually became the third registered woman doctor in the country.

Lis Smith said she was “astounded” to uncover the letter in the university archives.

“We knew that Sophia Jex-Blake and her supporters, in their quest to open up university medical education for women, had written to the Senatus Academicus at St Andrews in an attempt to gain admittance to classes there, but we didn’t know documentary evidence existed,” she explained.

“While searching the archives for information about the university’s higher certificate for women, I was astounded to come across what must be the very letter Jex-Blake wrote.”

The letter was signed by Ms Jex-Blake and ten other campaigners for female admittance to university. Several were also fighting for female suffrage.

They offered to build or hire new premises and arrange lectures in subjects that were not already part of the St Andrews course.

However, the request was unsuccessful and it would not be until 1892 that women were admitted as full students to St Andrews.

In 1874 Ms Jex-Blake helped set up the London School of Medicine for Women.

Three years later she became the third female doctor in the country to register with the General Medical Council after obtaining an MD at the University of Berne.

Ms Smith said most of the signatories of the 1873 letter did eventually succeed in practising as doctors by qualifying outside the United Kingdom while Jex-Blake herself went on to set up the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1886.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate