Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dr. Elsie Inglis

Elsie Inglis, doctor, surgeon and suffragette, died on the 26th of November, 1917.

Elise Inglis was a truly remarkable woman who, along with Sophia Jex-Blake and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was responsible for paving the way for female doctors and surgeons in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Those pioneering women had to fight the prejudice of male-dominated Victorian society, where women were expected to become wives and mothers and leave doctoring to the menfolk. Inglis was having none of that. She appears to have been a formidable woman and no doubt she needed such an asset. One look at a photo will suggest she took no prisoners and her biography on the 'Rampant Scotland' website reinforces the idea referring to letters and diary extracts that show she was “a stern disciplinarian who struck fear into patients and medical staff.”

However, Elsie Inglis was also a compassionate heroine and it is for that she shall be remembered. In fact, Elsie Inglis has been described as Scotland's Florence Nightingale, but that's near enough an outrageous comparison. Professionally, as a qualified doctor and surgeon, Inglis was superior to the brave little night nurse of the Crimea. There are obvious similarities, but Inglis' career was on a different plane.

Elsie Inglis is more often than not mentioned in relation to her heroic role in the First World War, but she was also involved in the Suffragette Movement and founded revolutionary women's hospitals in Edinburgh. Her contribution to female emancipation started when Elsie joined the Central Society for Women's Suffrage, began in 1866, while still a student in Edinburgh. Inglis later joined the National Union of Suffrage Societies and made speeches about women's medical education. In 1906, Inglis also played a principle role in the establishment of the Federation of Scottish Suffrage Societies, for which she was Secretary, and took part in the Princes Street Suffrage March.

Elizabeth Crawford, in 'The Suffragette Movement', tells of Elsie's campaign activities in Scotland, where Inglis spoke “at up to four meetings a week, travelling the length and breadth of the country.” For all her efforts, Elsie Inglis was never able to exercise voting rights – women (only those over the age of thirty, mind you) were first able to vote only after Elsie Inglis had died.

The first step Inglis made towards becoming a heroine of the Great War was to suggest that women's medical units be allowed to serve on the Western Front. Odd as it may sound, Louisa Garrett Anderson had enough volunteers in the Women's Hospital Corps, but even stranger was the response of the War Office. The bowler hatted, pin striped numpties spurned the idea, telling Inglis, as Leah Leneman records in her biography, “My good lady, go home and sit still.” Well Elsie Inglis wasn't the kind of woman to sit still for long. Back home in Edinburgh, she  promptly established the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service and in November, 1914, the first unit left for France. By the following year, the 200-bed Abbaye de Royaumont Hospital was in place and that was followed by a second hospital, at Villers Cotterets, which was set up in 1917.

A second unit was sent to Serbia in January 1915, financed by the London Suffrage Society. Then, in mid-April, after the Chief Medical Officer of that unit fell ill, Inglis herself took the opportunity to replace her. During the summer, Inglis set up two further hospital units and directed her efforts to reducing typhus and other epidemics, and improving hygiene. Thanks in no small part to Elsie Inglis and her discipline, over the course of the war, the Scottish Women's Hospitals had much lower levels of death from disease than the more traditional military hospitals then in operation.

Adding more incident and bravery to her tale, during an Austrian offensive in the summer of 1915, Elsie Inglis and her team were captured and imprisoned. Eventually, with the help of the United States diplomats, which had yet to enter the war and was still neutral, the British authorities were able to negotiate her release from the Austrians. That experience can't have been pleasant, but that was war.

All told, the Scottish Women's Hospitals Committee sent over a thousand women to help save the lives of servicemen in war zones across Europe. Those doctors, nurses, orderlies and drivers helped to set up and run four hospitals and fourteen medical units in France, Belgium, Serbia, Corsica, Salonika, Romania, Greece, Malta and Russia, where Inglis herself went, in 1916, in support of Serbian troops fighting the advancing Germans.

Elsie Maud Inglis was born of Scots parents in a hill station at Naini Tal in the Himalayas, on the 16th of August, 1864. In 1878, after a brief sojourn in Tasmania following her father's retirement, wee Elsie found herself in Edinburgh for the first time. Elsie began her medical studies in 1886, at the Edinburgh University School of Medicine for Women, run by Jex-Blake. Those two didn't see eye-to-eye (too alike perhaps) and Inglis left in 1889 to establish the rival Scottish Association for the Medical Education for Women, funded by her father and friends. Later, from 1891, Inglis studied for eighteen months, under Sir William McEwen, at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Inglis qualified as a doctor in 1892, becoming a licentiate of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

Dr. Inglis then worked in London as a house surgeon in a hospital for women, run by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and for a period at the Rotunda, a leading maternity hospital in Dublin. In 1894, Inglis returned to Edinburgh, where she established a medical practice with Dr. Jessie MacGregor and, in 1899, she was appointed lecturer in gynaecology at the Medical College for Women. In November 1899, Inglis opened a seven bed hospital called the George Square Nursing Home, at number 11. Then, in 1904, it moved to 219 High Street, where it was renamed the Hospice, staffed entirely by women. In 1925, after having amalgamated with the Brunstfield Hospital in 1910, that became the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital.

Elsie Maud Inglis died in Newcastle Upon Tyne on the 26th of November, 1917. Commenting on her death, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Arthur Balfour, said, “In the history of this [First] World War, alike by what she did and by the heroism, driving power and the simplicity by which she did it, Elsie Inglis has earned an everlasting place of honour.” Elsie Inglis was buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, after a memorial service in St. Giles' Cathedral, on the 29th of November. Her pallbearers were Serbian officers and her coffin was bedecked with the flags of Britain and Serbia.

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