I is for Elsie Inglis

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for
my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.

Elsie InglisElsie Inglis was a Scottish suffragette and pioneer of women in medicine and medicine for women.

She was born in Naini Tal, India,  in 1864, the daughter of John Inglis who worked in the Indian Civil Service and she was fortunate that her parents were enlightened enough to believe that an education was just as important for their daughter as for their son.

The family returned to Scotland where Inglis enjoyed a private education and enrolled at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women which opened in 1887. But she fell out with the school’s founder, Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, and set up her own rival medical college with the backing of her father before completing her training under Sir William Macewen at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Rotunda Maternity Hospital

Rotunda Maternity Hospital

In 1892, she qualified for both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Her particular interest was the medical care of women and the poor standards that existed at that time, and she secured a post at the pioneering New Hospital for Women in London, and later at the Rotunda in Dublin, a leading maternity hospital.

Inglis returned to Edinburgh and set up practice with a fellow former student and opened a maternity hospital for poor women alongside a midwifery centre, which was a forerunner of the future Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital.

She would often waive her medical fees owed to her and would pay for her patients to recuperate by the sea. Her dissatisfaction with the standard of medical care for women led to her becoming politically active and she played a leading role in the early days of women’s suffrage in Scotland.

It was through her political activities that brought Inglis fame during the First World War when she was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, an organisation funded by the women’s suffrage movement with the express aim of providing all female staffed relief hospitals.

The Women of RoyaumontTypical of attitudes at that time, her offer of a fully-qualified medical team was turned down by the Royal Army Medical Corps. The War Office told Inglis: ‘My good lady, go home and sit still,’ but instead it was the French who adopted her plan and within three months of the outbreak of war she had established the Scottish Women’s Hospital Unit at the Abbaye de Royaumont.

Inglis arranged for women’s units to be sent to Serbia, Salonika, Romania, Malta and Corsica in 1915 and to Russia the following year. Inglis herself served in Serbia where she was responsible for improving hygiene, so reducing the ravages of typhus and other epidemics, and she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle by the Crown Prince of Serbia.

Inglis was captured in 1915, but was released after diplomatic pressure by the United States. She then headed a team sent to Odessa in Russia in 1916, but she was forced to return a year later as she was suffering from cancer.She died on the day she arrived, at the Station Hotel, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Her funeral took place at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, an ‘occasion of an impressive public tribute’ and there was a separate memorial service at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster. Winston Churchill said of Inglis and her nurses ‘they will shine in history’, words found on the in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry above.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

11 comments… Add yours
  • Lee 9th March 2016

    An inspiring woman, indeed. Such a sad ending of a life of someone who gave so much to others. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? But then, that is the way life is all too often.

    (I wish I knew how to correct my Website URL as shown below….the correct URL is – http://kitconn.blogspot.com.au – as I pointed out in my comment to your previous post.) I change it manually each time I post a comment, but that only lasts for that particular response. The next time I visit, the error is still there.

    I hope you, Mr. Parrot, perhaps are able to correct it on my behalf. Thank you in anticipation…your long-lost relative Ms. Galah.

    • Mr Parrot 9th March 2016

      Thanks Lee – as I explain on my Tantrums post, your web address seems to work okay, but as a redirect, in my case to a blogspot.co.uk. I’m not sure why this should be and it might be worth asking Blogger, if only for information.

  • Yorkshire Pudding 9th March 2016

    Elsie was one hell of a woman but was she any good at darning socks? I ask this question in honour of International Women’s Day. In my experience, women are usually far superior in the field of darning which is a grossly underrated skill. I have tried to darn myself but I am too ham-fisted. I assume that Mrs Parrot darns your holey socks with tender loving care, her nimble fingers expertly manipulating her needle.

    • Mr Parrot 9th March 2016

      Oddly enough, sock darning is quite a male preserve, or at least it was in the days of woollen hosiery before our throwaway society. The most crucial skill that young men learned while in the forces during the war and in National Service was how to darn a sock and this was the precursor to women’s liberation, allowing more time for paid employment, rather than messing about with one of those wooden mushroom thingies.

  • Roger Green 9th March 2016

    It’s funny – not ha, ha funny – that the French also could make good use of a black American soldier in WWI like Henry Johnson when their home country was not.


  • ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ 9th March 2016

    Wonderful lady, and indeed how fortunate to get the opportunity to study…
    beeing of much later my parents didn’t allow me sadly enough.

    Nice post !!

    Have a nice ABC-Day / – Week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)

  • Reader Wil 9th March 2016

    A true post for International Women’s Day. Our first female doctor was Aletta Jacobs. In the beginning she was not allowed to attend certain lectures, because they were not fit to be seen by women.
    Wil, ABCWTeam

  • Ann 9th March 2016

    A wonderful pioneer in the industry. Thanks for sharing her story.

  • ann nz 9th March 2016

    I just watched a video on a man burying a girl alive. Not sure if it is dramatize. more than 100 years ago, my great grand father pick up a girl who was abandoned.

    My theme for this week is also International Women’s day.

  • Su-sieee! Mac 12th March 2016

    Thank goodness for women such as Elsie Inglis continue onward pursuing their passion regardless of society saying “No, you don’t. No, you can’t. No, you won’t.”
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

  • Trevor Rowley 12th March 2016

    I can’t tell you anything about women who never quite realised there potential but, having said that, there have been plenty of men down the years who have taken the path that was expected of them and settled for a life of tedium and drudgery, be it in the heat and danger of the foundry, the foul air half a mile under ground at the coalface or the repetitive boredom of being a very small cog in a decrepit factory – disappointment isn’t just a female preserve.

    My paternal grandmother raised a family of five while her husband (my grandfather) recovered from the injuries, inward and outward, he had received on the Somme. Her business enterprise was to take in other families’ washing on a daily basis and also giving them sound advice on how to save and invest any surplus cash they might have had from a meagre week’s wage. All her sisters were servants in some shape or form – it was what women did – there was nothing else for the working classes and education was for toffs.

    Incidentally, I stayed in Nanital some years ago and what a delightful place it is – nestling in the middle range hills leading to the Himalayas. My mother in law was schooled there at the prestigious Sherwood College. In those days, it was a district which the Brits could get away to to avoid the stifling heat of the plains around Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. On a clear day you can see Everest – if you’re lucky!


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