Presentation at St Andrews University

2018 Year of the Woman

To celebrate the 2018 Year of the Woman, the Open Assocation presents a series of eight fascinating talks.

These talks will also celebrate the centenary of WWI, along with the suffragette movement. They will also look at the lives and work of (primarily) Scottish women of the past, whose names are virtually unknown, but who made a significant contribution to scientific knowledge. Some of these talks will be accompanied by an academic within the relevant subject area.

2 November 2018

Presenters: Alan Cumming and Ailsa Clarke

Lecture information

Dr Elsie Inglis qualified as a doctor in 1892. It was an unconventional career path at that time for women, who were very much discouraged and discriminated against. Elsie studied medicine in both Edinburgh and Glasgow and it was during this period in Edinburgh that she founded a medical college for women. After qualifying, she choose to work among the poor and was a pioneer in maternity services in Edinburgh. A mover and shaker in Scotland’s suffrage movement, Elsie was not averse to picking her battles.

When WW1 broke out in 1914 Elsie inquired at the war office if women doctors and surgeons would be permitted to serve in front line hospitals, she was dismissed with the words, “My good lady, go home and sit still”. Dr Elsie Inglis was clearly not the type to accept the words of some puerile official. If Britain did not want the services of these highly gifted women then perhaps Britain’s allies did.

In 1914 Elsie founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. These hospital units served in France, Serbia, Greece, Romania and elsewhere. Staffed almost entirely by women, nearly 1500 women from all over the UK and beyond joined the units as Doctors, nurses, orderlies, ambulance drivers, cooks etc. These brave, stoic women, not only endured the horrors on the battlefields but faced typhus epidemics, outbreaks of malaria, starvation, bitter cold winters and entire nations on the move. Elsie herself became a POW in Serbia and witnessed the throes of the Russian revolution. Sadly, Elsie who had been suffering from cancer throughout the war died on 26 November 1917, the day after returning home from the Russian front.

There will be a 40 minute film which follows Alan Cumming as he researches the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Scotland, France and Serbia during WW1.

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