To mark International Women’s Day 2018, Carly Manson, Archivist, Archives & Special Collections, looks back at some of the pioneering women of the past who broke down gender barriers, fighting for an education to become medics during the First World War.

St George’s Hospital residential house staff

IMAGE- Photograph of the St George’s Hospital residential house staff, with two of the Medical School’s first female students, 1917. Helen Ingleby on the far left, Hetty Ethelberta Claremont far right.

calendar-icon 8 March 2018

The First World War acted as a catalyst for big change at St George’s Hospital and the Medical School.  In response to wartime staff shortages in 1915, St George’s admitted its first ever female medical students.

The St George’s Hospital Gazette dated July 1916, which is located in the Archives & Special Collections, reports that:

'Among the many sorrowful effects which the War has had upon us it is pleasant to record one joyful result which we would never have attained without a war. Variety and charm has been added to the Medical School and its works by the admission of ladies as students. This is an innovation of which we can boast that St George’s has, as usual, set the fashion among the London hospitals.' (St George’s Hospital Gazette, July, 1916, p.136).

At the time, the Medical School Dean was asked to find out the opinion of the students on this subject and was authorised to admit a strictly limited number of female students for any period at his discretion.

The Dean reported that St George’s would admit up to ten women students during the continuance of the war. These female students were allowed to remain until the whole of the curriculum had been completed after the war.

Two of the student record cards provide information on Helen Ingleby and Hetty Ethelberta Claremont who can be seen in the photograph of the hospital residential staff above, dated 1917.

Firstfemalestudents studentrecordcards Cropped

IMAGE- record cards of four of the first female students to study at St George’s. These provide details on students Helen Ingleby, Hetty Ethelberta Claremont, Marian M. Bostock and Elizabeth O'Flynn.  These record cards can be viewed in the Archive & Special Collections at St George’s, University of London.

During the war years, Helen Ingleby served in the Anglo-French Hospital near the French coast.  After finishing her studies at Hyde Park Corner in 1919, she went on to work for the Victoria Hospital for Children, the South London Hospital for Women and as a lecturer in Pathology at Kings College Hospital, before then moving to the United States and spending her remaining career in Philadelphia. She became Pathologist of the Albert Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia in 1945.

Hetty Ethelberta Claremont was born into a medical family, and she won the John Hunter medal whilst at St George’s. She became a surgeon, remembered for her concern with the welfare of her patients. It is clear that women at this time were able to experience success in the medical field as a result of studying at St George’s.

Following WW1 it was not until 1946 that women were again admitted as medical students. However, today there are actually more female students studying at the Medical School than male students, and we recently appointed our first female principal, Professor Jenny Higham.