150 years on, ‘Edinburgh Seven’ finally get justice – leader comment

The first women to matriculate at a British university faced attacks by a mob of male students who pushed a sheep into an exam hall.

Justice delayed is justice denied. The decision to finally award degrees to the “Edinburgh Seven” – the first women to matriculate at a British university in the 1870s – will do them no good, but it does send a message to modern-day sexists who still need to hear it.

There should be no debate whatsoever about whether women are capable of doing great things in the ‘Stem’ subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But, for a sometimes-vocal minority of men, there is.

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When Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans. Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell enrolled at Edinburgh University to study medicine, they blazed a trail for women across the UK to take their rightful place in society.

Sophia Jex-Blake was a leading member of the 'Edinburgh Seven'

They faced down appalling prejudice from powerful male academics who believed women were not intelligent enough to study medicine and outright violence from some male students, with a crowd of several hundred throwing mud and other objects at the seven women when they arrived for an exam. And, during the exam, a live sheep was pushed into the hall.

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'Edinburgh Seven' to finally get degrees 150 years after campaign to allow women...

However, not all men of the time were so blinkered. The Edinburgh Seven’s actions helped turn the tide of public opinion and the number of applications from women to take university courses rose sharply.

The Scotsman is happy to report that it was an early supporter of the Seven and women’s right to an education. The historians of the future will judge whether this paper is right about the issues of current times, but 150 years ago, on this issue, we chose the side of justice, fairness and truth.

Despite being prevented from graduating, all seven women went on to work in medicine, with Jex-Blake running the London School of Medicine for Women and later opening a similar school in Edinburgh. And their determination has not only improved the lives of women in the UK. In the years since the Edinburgh Seven smashed down this barrier of prejudice, countless lives have been saved by women working in medicine.

Our economy, our society and our lives have been enriched by the influx of women into the workplace that took place over the past century.

And yet still problems like the gender pay gap exist. Justice for women in the workplace is a cause that should not be delayed any longer.