Briony Hudson has put a spotlight on female medics

Me and my research: Briony Hudson

Interview by John Holt, Issue 118/10, 01.10.2018
Commemorating women in the medical world
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in London is running a second exhibition to mark its 500th anniversary and we wanted to recognise the famous and forgotten women who have worked as doctors, surgeons, apothecaries, nurses, midwives and carers.

We aimed to show that the gender and medicine debate has never been black and white. For example, Florence Nightingale, who championed nursing as a respected profession for women, was opposed to female doctors.

We have borrowed the paired portraits of the suffragette doctors Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson from University College London to complement images of women presidents of the RCP.

A letter from Garrett Anderson to the hospital board’s male chair, saying she has all arrangements covered should she be arrested for suffragette activities, was a wonderful discovery at the London Metropolitan Archives. To display it next to a handkerchief from the Sussex Archaeological Society, marking the imprisonment of 66 women in Holloway prison in 1912 – including Liverpool GP Alice Ker – seems fitting in the year of #Vote100, celebrating the passing of the Representation of the People Act.

Next to RCP records of women practitioners who were punished for medical work, we have been able to show testimonials from Lambeth Palace Library that supported Jane Pemell’s successful application for a church medical licence in 1695. Funding from the Lord Leonard and Lady Estelle Wolfson Foundation has allowed us to rehang the RCP’s main display of portraits, replacing a male assembly with women for the exhibition’s duration.

Briony Hudson is the guest curator of This Vexed Question: 500 Years of Women in Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians until 18 January 2019