Sophia Jex-Blake: biography and contributions of this doctor, teacher and activist

Sophia Jex-Blake was a doctor and also taught female medicine. and be an active fighter for women’s rights.

It was above all a matter of ensuring that women had access to studies in all universities, with the possibility of receiving the same training as men. This path was not easy and he had different opponents, even colleagues who were opposed to his way of thinking.

Given her continuing struggle, she eventually became the first physician in Scotland and one of the first in the UK, and managed to found two schools of medicine for women, which was also revolutionary and innovative at the time. .

In this Sophia Jex-Blake biography you will find there the most important aspects of the life of this reference in Medicine and its activism.

    Brief biography of Sophia Jex-Blake

    Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake was born January 21, 1840 in Croft Place, Hastings, England.. She was the youngest of six children, although the oldest three did not reach the age of majority, and she grew up in an upper middle class family with conservative and religious convictions, adherents of the evangelical movement and belonging to to the Anglican Church.

    Her father was Thomas Jex-Blake, who was a lawyer, and her mother, Mary Cubitt. The two surviving brothers were Thoma Jex-Blake, eight years older than Sophia and who would be the Dean of Wells Cathedral, and Katherine Jex-Blake, who would teach at Girton College, Cambridge.

    Until the age of eight, Jex-Blake was educated at home by his parents; It was not until 1848 that she was enrolled in the first private boarding school, although this did not last long, spending most of her childhood moving from school to school.

    From an early age he showed an interest in writing, emphasizing his imaginative skills and rebellious spirit.

      Years of youth

      In 1857, Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake went to Wales, England, where she worked at the Betws and Coed Children’s School., an experience that increased her desire to study and work as a teacher.

      So, in 1858, she decided to move to London to enroll as a student at Queen’s College. Shortly after beginning his university studies, he was offered the possibility of taking mathematics revision courses, a task which he would accomplish until 1861, although he had to work the first term without being paid. father feeling proud of the offer his daughter had made him, but he didn’t like the fact that he was being paid for it.

      It was in 1860 when would meet Octavia Hill, who was a year older than Sophia and taught at Working Women’s College; an intense friendship will be forged between the two women, which will be cut short by the demands and pressures of Sophie’s parents, deeply touched by this distancing.

        Work stage as a teacher

        In order to continue her studies to become a teacher, she moved to Edinburgh in 1862, where she studied mathematics and German, being a student at University Classes for Women. It was at this time that she was visited by Elizabeth Garrett, who would be the first British woman to earn a medical degree.

        So, with the desire to train and work in different schools for women, she asked her parents about the possibility of traveling to France, although they did not accept and would end up leaving for Germany, where she would teach for 8 months at the Grand-Ducal Institute in Mannheim. After completing her replacement as a teacher in Germany, she decided to return to England.

        After working as a teacher in Manchester, she decided to get acquainted with women’s education institutions in North America. So on May 27, 1865, she left with her friend Isabella Bain for Boston, where she worked as an associate physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children and met another important woman in her life: Dr. Lucy Sewall.

        To learn more about education in the United States, he decided to visit different states, being surprised by the development of education and the more tolerance for differences of sex, race or religion.

        So after visiting different parts of North America, he returned to Boston, where he will continue to work at the New England Hospital performing administrative duties and visiting women living alone. It was then that by working in the hospital sector, he reflected on his future and his true vocation, whether it was a teacher or a doctor.

          Beginnings in medicine

          In 1867, Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake published her book A Visit to Some American Schools and Colleges. That was it the year also the year in which it would finally be decided to study medicine. So she enrolled in New England Female College in an anatomy class, but despite the fact that she liked the subject, she felt that the level that women were receiving was very low compared to that in male universities. Because of this, she decided to send a letter to Harvard Medical School asking for admission, although it didn’t take long for her to be turned down, alleging that Harvard was not admitting female students.

          After being rejected by Universities for Men, Sophie made several attempts to be admitted to Harvard, in 1868 she chose to move to New York to continue her education because she knew of a medical school, New York Infirmary for Women. , directed by Elizabeth Blackwell. Although his training at this school did not last long because during the winter of that year he decided to return to England and stay with his mothers after his father died.

          Between 1869 and 1874, Sophie he wanted to start his medical training in England, so he decided to go to the University of Edinburgh ask to be accepted. At first she was refused the place because she was the only woman interested, but after securing the participation of other women, a group known as The Edinburgh Set, she was able to enter as a ‘student.

          Thus, she did all the subjects and the hospital internships to be able to leave this Faculty of Medicine, but she had to combine her studies with the continuous struggle to obtain the same treatment as men, having to resort to the legal field with the l helping lawyers, which took a lot of his time and helped him fail two of the exams needed to graduate.

          Following his suspensions, Jex-Blake confronted the investigating court saying they had been unfair with the mark they gave him; the examiners disagreed and Sophie did not have the support of her fellow trainers either. Therefore in 1874, she founded the London School of Medicine for Women, also remaining active in the fight to access universities.

          In 1876, she took the midwifery exam of the College of Surgeons in order to enter the practice of medicine, but the Obstetric Society opposed it, writing and thus preventing the exam. Like that, Sophie decided to travel abroad to take the exams and present his doctoral thesis on puerperal fever and thus be able to obtain the title of doctor of medicine in January 1877.

          When returning to England to be able to comprise of the Register of Doctors of England, had to appear before the unique Court of Examination that admitted then women, thus obtaining to be the fifth woman that it could access such registry.

            Consolidation of his professional career

            In 1878 Sophia Jex-Blake returns to Edinburgh to start working as a doctor opening his own clinic and caring for poor women. During this time, she was no longer the principal of the London School of Medicine for Women, but kept in touch, also being an activist in the fight for women’s suffrage.

            In 1881, after the death of her mother, Sophie entered a depressive state which made her withdraw from the practice of Medicine for 2 years. Likewise, in 1882, the Council of the London School of Medicine for Women, whose Sophie was a member, voted who would be the dean, as she ultimately took the place of Elisabeth Garrett, who initially opposed women’s medical schools. Given his disagreement with this election, finally in 1897 he decided to quit the school of which he had been the creator.

            In mid-1883 he reopened another office, which in 1885 was transformed into the Edinburgh Hospital And Dispensary for Women., with the help of a midwife and another doctor, Catherine Urquhart.

            That same year, she opened a new medical school for women in Edinburgh. Although with this school he would not have luck either, since a series of events happened that created rivalries, forming therefore two groups; the opposition was led by Elise Inglis who ultimately decided to open another medical school for women in Edinburgh, resulting in the closure in 1898 of the school founded by Sophia.

            Last years of life

            A year later, in 1899, Sophia Jex-Blake decided to retire and return to Sussex County, where she had lived as a child. Therefore he sold his consultation to Bruntsfield Lodge, which was to be renamed Bruntsfield Hospital, caring for women until 1989.

            In doing so, he settled in Windydene, Rotherfield, with Dr Margaret Todd, who was reportedly his romantic partner. It was common for them to receive visits from professionals in health and other disciplines such as literature and art.

            Sophie Jex-Blake ultimately died on June 7, 1912 in Wyndydene and was buried in Rotherfield, Sussex, England.

            Bibliographical references

            • Somerville, JM. (2005) Dr Sophie Jex-Blake and the Edinburgh School of Women’s Medicine, 1886-1898. The journal of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.
            • Church, P. (2018) Four pioneers of modern medicine: Elisabeth Garrett, Sophie Jex-Blake, Mary Scharlieb and Mary Putnam. University of Malaga.
            • Alderman, S. (2020) Sophie Jex-Blake the frontman of “The Seven of Edinburgh”, which rioted for daring to study medicine. BBC

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