The Elsie Inglis story in timeline by Alan Cumming

As part of school programmes to commemorate the works of Dr Elsie Inglis, I have been asked to prepare a timeline on the bullet points that follow Elsie’s life through her remarkable years.

Elsie Inglis spent much of her life utterly devoted to others. A leading light in the women’s suffrage movement, she was at the genesis of women working in Medicine in Scotland. Elsie was committed to improving the lives of the poor particularly in Edinburgh. Great efforts were made to provide medical care for many of the city’s women and children. And when ww1 broke out she once again stepped up to the plate. A founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals which provided all female hospital units that went on to support Britain’s allies on the Eastern and Western fronts. A pragmatic yet often unyielding individual, Elsie was an inspiring leader, and without question one of the key movers and shakers of the time. With a gentle hand and a sense of fair play she navigated her way through a brilliant career and an extraordinary life.

1864 – Elsie was born in the Himalayas of India. Her family were descendants of the Inglis of Inverness. Her father John Inglis went out to India to work for the East India Company and later served as a magistrate.

1876 – Family sailed to Tasmania, Australia. The family were now returning home to Scotland but brothers Hugh and Cecil were being drafted into a new life in Tasmania.

1878 – The remaining family sail for home via the Suez Canal, on the steamship the “Durham”.

1878 – Family have now moved into their new home at 70 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh. Elsie with her sister Eva, are attending school at Edinburgh’s Institution for Educating Young Ladies at 23 Charlotte Square.

1882-1883 – (aged 18) Elsie departs to Paris, France. She is enrolled in finishing school.

1885 – Harriet, Elsie’s mother dies of scarlet fever, aged 47. Elsie devotes her time to her father and running the house. The family are now living in an apartment at Melville St, Edinburgh.

1886 – Elsie announces to her father she intends to “go in for medicine”
In October she enrols in the newly formed Dr Sophia Jex-Blake’s Edinburgh’s School of Medicine for Women.

1889 – After a row between Dr Sophia Jex-Blake and her students, with Elsie effectively being the rebel leader, Elsie leaves the medical school.

1890 – Elsie’s radical plans for an alternative women’s medical school bear fruit and a new school is housed at 30 Chambers St, Edinburgh. Elsie also moves into politics and becomes honorary secretary of Edinburgh’s National Society for Women’s Suffrage.

1891 – Elsie continues her studies in Glasgow. She is living at a local YMCA hostel in the city.

1892 – Aged 27 passes her exams with flying colours. She is now Licentiate of Royal College of Physician and Surgeons, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Elsie moves to London as she is appointed Resident Medical Doctor in a new hospital for women on Euston Rd, London.

1893 – She heads to Dublin, Ireland to do three month of midwifery.

1894 – Elsie has returned to Edinburgh and begins with Dr Jessie MacGregor a practice at Walker St in the city. This was the year that would completely devastate Elsie. In March 1894 her father died, a huge blow to Elsie and she wrote “I simply cannot imagine life without him”.

1895 – 1912 – Elsie builds up her reputation as Edinburgh’s foremost female Doctor. Hospitals and Maternity facilities were developed for the city’s poor. In 1906 Elsie played a notable role in the establishment of the Scottish Women’s Suffrage Federation. Elsie also works tirelessly campaigning for the vote for women. She talked all over the UK, from the Shetlands to Cornwall.

1913 – Elsie travels to America to look at the role of women in medicine. The first signs of Elsie’s health taking a dip begin to show.

1914 – WW1 breaks out. Elsie inquires at the war office if women Doctors and surgeons are permitted to serve in front line hospitals. Elsie is told to “go home and sit still”. Elsie now forms the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. These were all female hospital units which supported the French, Russians and the Serbs.
In December a unit is dispatched to Royaumont in France. Elsie travels out to inspect the hospital.

1915 – Elsie again travels to Royaumont for an inspection. In May she has arrived in Serbia. She is Chief Medical officer of a unit supporting Serbia through the typhus epidemic. Stationed at Kragujevac, Elsie and her unit performed near miracles during what was a difficult period. Elsie also developed three other hospitals in Serbia at this time. During those awful days she was known as the Mother of the Nation. A monument is build at Mladenovac in her honour. In late 1915 Serbia is invaded again but this time a huge fresh fighting army has returned. Serbia is alone and when Belgrade is raised to the ground in October the great Serbia retreat begins. Elsie chooses to stay in Serbia and face the enemy. The unit is now pushed down to Krusevac. Elsie and her unit are now taking POW. Elsie, over the next three months fights for every point and detail as she makes a fight of being a captive.

1916 – Elsie and her unit are repatriated via Belgrade, Vienna, and Zurich before home.
Elsie who described herself as “sick at heart” due to the outcome of her beloved Serbs, enters into a programme of fund-raising for Serbia, she also visits Corsica where a unit is deployed to support Serbian civilians.
Elsie is awarded the Order of the White Eagle by the Crown Price of Serbia. (first woman to have this honour)

1917 – August, Elsie leads at large SWH unit to the Russian front to support two Serbian divisions made up of Austrian Slavs who had surrendered to the Russians and unable to make their way to Serbia. The unit was lead by Elsie at the request of the Serbian government. Elsie’s refusal to abandon those Serb divisions at a time during the Russian revolution in 1917 demonstrated her devotion and love for the Serbian people. Those 13,000 men would have been slaughtered at the front but Elsie battled with the authorities and refused to return home unless the men were guaranteed a safe passage out. This happened but sadly a number of weeks later, in fact the day she returned to the port of Newcastle, Elsie Inglis gave her last breath on the 26th of November 1917, and it was her dying wish that the Serbs should have their hospitals. SWH units remained with the Serbian soldiers in their push for home between 1916-1918. Elsie Inglis is buried in the Dean cemetery, Edinburgh.