The day female students enrolled at Edinburgh medical school

Edinburgh University. Picture: ContributedEdinburgh University. Picture: Contributed
Edinburgh University. Picture: Contributed

A group known as the Edinburgh seven - Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell - were the first atriculated undergraduate female students at any British university.

On November 12th 1869, the first to attend the prestigious medical school was Sophia Jex-Blake and her friend Edith Pechy.

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Jex-Blake applied to study medicine in March of 1869 but her application was rejected by the University Court on the grounds that that the University couldn’t make the necessary arrangements ‘in the interest of one lady’.

Picture: Sophia Jex BlakePicture: Sophia Jex Blake
Picture: Sophia Jex Blake

She then went on to place an advertisement in The Scotsman calling for other women to join her. It read: “Do you think anything more is requisite to ensure success than moderate abilities and a good share of perseverance? I believe I may lay claim to these, together with a real love of the subjects of study, but as regards any thorough knowledge of these subjects at present, I fear I am deficient in most.”.

After six more women joined the campaign, a second application for the Edinburgh seven requested matriculation, which involved the right to attend all the classes and examinations required for a degree in medicine. It was approved by the University Court.

The women had to receive their classes in separate buildings from men and would pay higher tuition, due to there being less of them. They also faced a significant amount of backlash, culminating in the Surgeon’s Hall Riot which saw a crowd throw rubbish and mud at them as they attempted to enter an anatomy exam.

The seven women have recently been commemorated through a special engraved plaque at Edinburgh University’s at the university’s anatomical museum.