Leader: Musical of Edinburgh Seven inspires new generation

Sophia Jex-Blake, one of the leading figures in the long and often bitter fight for the right of women to train as doctors. Photograph: Edinburgh University Library.
Sophia Jex-Blake, one of the leading figures in the long and often bitter fight for the right of women to train as doctors. Photograph: Edinburgh University Library.
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As pioneers in the long struggle for equal rights for women, they were truly extraordinary.

The Edinburgh Seven, who in the 1870s became the first women ever to matriculate at a British university, faced opposition from powerful male academics who believed women lacked the intellectual ability and stamina to study medicine. Several hundred male students went further, throwing mud and other objects at Sophia Jex-Blake and her six colleagues as they arrived for an exam.

But, in the face of such sexist attitudes and violence, they persevered. They were prevented from graduating, but still Jex-Blake went on to run the London School of Medicine for Women and later opened a similar school in Edinburgh and all the other six became MDs or were involved in medicine in some way.

Such indomitable spirit does not appear to have won over their male contemporaries at Edinburgh University, but it did triumph in the battle for the hearts and minds of the public and the number of applications by women to study at universities soared. Happily, Scotland on Sunday’s sister paper The Scotsman was an early supporter.

Nearly 150 years later, sexist attitudes are still a problem. But telling the story of the Edinburgh Seven – as Jordanna O’Neill and John Kielty plan to do in a new stage musical – will help remind us all that society can be transformed for the better if good people stand up to prejudice and intolerance.