Dr Carol Lovelidge: The history of Women in Medicine

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Date(s) - Monday, 9 November 2020
10:30 am - 12:00 pm

Zoom (online)

Please note: to apply to attend this meeting, send an email to meetings@nlu3a.org.uk

The mid nineteenth century saw the beginnings of what became the enormous fight women embarked on for their right to vote, receive higher education and to become practising doctors. Some women became engaged in all three causes, but it is the latter that became my greatest interest.

My lecture focuses on the early struggles of the first few women who qualified as doctors. These women managed to ‘Storm the Citadel’ of the male exclusive profession by trickery, finding loopholes in the system, training in other countries and by fighting until they succeeded in establishing their own ‘London College of Medicine for Women’ in 1874. An early role was played by Bedford College (my Alma Mater) the first Higher Education Establishment for Women founded in 1849. The college provided basic science courses relevant for pre-clinical training and courses equivalent to 2nd MB which helped swell the numbers of women studying at the London College of Medicine ready to enter clinical training. There continued a huge prejudice against women training in medicine and the established male schools only very reluctantly accepted few women. Even after women had won the right to vote and to enter other male dominated professions and even to enter parliament this remained so. It wasn’t until 1975 with the passing of the ‘Sex Discrimination Act’ that women were accepted into medical school on the basis of merit and no longer one of a small quota. Numbers of women entering medical school increased enormously and from the 1992-1993 entry female students have outnumbered males and by 2017, 59% of students entering medical school were women. The presence of women doctors in hospitals and as GP’s is very noticeable as a result of this. In 2017 60.6% of doctors under the age of 35 were women. Took well over one and a half centuries to get there!

Aspects to be covered

  • Early times and lone successes
  • Edinburgh Seven: Collective Fight
  • Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and others
  • London Medical College for Women (Became The Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine)
  • Role of Bedford College
  • World War I
  • Between the Wars
  • World War II and after
  • Personal Stories
  • Support from many men
  • Final Acceptance

Carol was interested in medicine from when she was a teenager and chose to study Biochemistry at Bedford College as she realized it was an area which was beginning to reveal the scientific basis of diseases and their possible cure. Inspired by the enthusiasm for neurochemistry of the new young lecturer John Lagnado, Carol pursued a career in neuroscience. Following graduation, she worked as a research assistant in the Neurochemistry Laboratory of the Leipzig Brain Research Institute, based in a Psychiatric Hospital for 18 months before returning to the UK. She then signed on for a PhD, financed by the Multiple Sclerosis Society in the Biochemistry Department at Guys Hospital Medical School. Her research topic was a physico-chemical study of isolated rat brain myelin. She worked with a team of neurologists, biochemists and neuro-immunologists with whom she continued to work for 16 years as a lecturer in the same department. In order to spend more time with her two young children she did a career side step into medical writing and publishing and after two years training in a local small publishing company felt very lucky to be appointed Assistant editor to the Neurology Journal, Brain based at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen’s Square. This took up the next 14 years. The main focus of the job was to edit all the papers chosen by the editor after peer review, ready for publication. The editors, two eminent neurologists, first Ian McDonald and then John Newsome-Davis, were far too busy to do the editing themselves. During all her years working in hospitals close to practising medics Carol became very aware and interested in the presence and role of women doctors and how different it was in different countries and how it was changing here in the UK. She looked more deeply into this and the history of women doctors after she retired and for a lecture she gave at her old grammar school in 2010. Today she is very happy to tell you the amazing story she discovered and the involvement of Bedford College in it.