Call to honour doctor who kept gender hidden

A CAMPAIGN to honour Britain's first woman doctor, who was forced to pretend to be a man for 53 years in order to practise medicine, has been launched in the Capital.

Miranda Stewart had to don the disguise in the early 1800s to gain entry to the exclusively male world of Edinburgh University.

The teenager adopted the name James Barry, later becoming a pioneering Army surgeon and keeping her elaborate deception a secret until she lay on her deathbed in 1865.

Now an amateur historian wants to recognise her unique achievements with a plaque on the Lothian Street house where she once lived.

John Dale is setting up a fund to raise around 4000 and has won the support of the city council and the Royal College of Physicians.

Mr Dale, 72, a retired parks superintendent, said: "This lady was quite outstanding, but few people today have any knowledge of her. She made history by becoming the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in Britain in 1812. This was, in fact, 43 years prior to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson's graduation as the "first" female doctor."

Barry, who was rumoured to be the granddaughter of the 11th Earl of Buchan and niece of the famous painter James Barry, arrived in the city in around 1805.

She secretly became Edinburgh University's first female graduate while still a teenager.

During her extraordinary life, she travelled the world as an Army surgeon, still keeping up the pretence of being a man. She also gained a reputation as a controversial and sometimes ill-disciplined officer. In 1819, the year she joined, Lord Albemarle was critical of the doctor's "unmistakably Scotch type of countenance", as well as a "certain effeminacy in his manner".

Barry retired from the services in 1859, having earned a reputation as a medical pioneer through her work to prevent disease spreading in dirty, overcrowded field hospitals.

Mr Dale, who now lives in Yorkshire, began researching her story when he lived in Kensington, London, where Barry lived for several years.

He said: "She went on to become the first woman surgeon in British history. She performed the very first caesarian in 1823 (where both the mother and child survived) and became the Inspector General of Military Hospitals - the equivalent in rank of Major General in the Army."

Paul McAuley, a conservation officer at the city council, said: "Miranda Barry is certainly worthy of commemoration, and I would support this project."

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