- Elsie Inglis (1864-1917)
Elsie Inglis was born at Naini Tal hill station in India on 18 August 1824. She grew up in a Victorian, male-dominated society where women became wives and mothers and certainly did not embark on careers in medicine. But fortunately she was the daughter of enlightened parents (her father was in the Indian civil service) who believed that the education of a daughter was just as important as that of a son. Her parents also supported her to realise her ambition to become involved in medicine.
Elsie started her medical training at the revolutionary "Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women" which had been set up by Dr Sophie Jex Blake. After three years, she then studied under Sir William McEwen at Glasgow University. By 1892 she had qualified as a Licentiate of all three Scottish medical schools and went to work in London. She was appalled by the poor standard of care and lack of specialisation in the care of female patients - and decided to do something about it.
Back in Edinburgh in 1894, she set up a medical practice with another woman doctor and opened a maternity hospital and midwifery resource centre for the poor in Edinburgh High Street. This later became the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital. Elsie often waived the fees for medical services and paid for patients to convalesce at the seaside.
Elsie Inglis realised that improving the medical care of women also required political backing and in 1906 she founded the Scottish Women's Suffragette Federation. Shortly before her death (in 1917) women above the age of 30 were granted the vote - though Elsie herself never lived to exercise her voting rights.
But it was Elsie's efforts during the First World war which really brought her fame. Her Suffragette Federation organised medical teams to go to France, Serbia and Salonica as well as Russia. She went to Serbia herself where her efforts to improve hygiene reduced the typhus and other epidemics which had been raging there. In 1915 she was captured and then repatriated. She then set about organising funds for a hospital in Russia and went to work there late in 1916.
A recent collection of letters and diary extracts has been published about Elsie Inglis which shows that Elsie was not just a compassionate heroine but also a stern disciplinarian who struck fear into patients and medical staff. She reduced nursing sisters to despair with her quick temper and blind rages.
She worked long hours in appalling conditions but was forced to return home in October 1917, suffering from cancer. She died on 26 November 1917 in Newcastle and was buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. Winston Churchill wrote that Inglis and her nurses "would shine in history".
Return to the Index of Famous Scots>
Where else would you like to go in Scotland?
News & Views>
All Features Index>
Search This Site>
Scottish Pictorial Calendar>
Places to Visit>