26th November 1917

Medical pioneer and women’s rights campaigner Elsie Inglis dies

Elsie Maud Inglis was born in India in 1864. Her father, whose roots were in Inverness, had been stationed there, and she spent her formative years in the country, eventually arriving in Scotland in her teens.

She was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Edinburgh and subsequently studied at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, which had been founded by Sophie Jex-Blake. However, the two had apparently not got on, and Elsie later established a rival, the Medical College for Women.

Elsie Inglis establishes The Hospice

Upon qualifying as a doctor, Elsie Inglis found work at a women’s hospital in London, but was back in Edinburgh before the turn of the century where she opened a hospital for women and children, which she called The Hospice. This alone would have been sufficient work for one person to manage, but she was, at the same time, campaigning for women’s right to vote and women’s broader rights in general.

Her Edinburgh hospital was just the first in a series of institutions for women that she founded in the years leading up to her death. However, her interest wasn’t only in treating women. When she volunteer her serviced at the outbreak of the First World War, she was rebuffed, but rather than “go home”, as was told, she set up a number of women-only medical units – the Scottish Women’s Hospitals – and dispatched them to France, Malta, Russia, Romania, Serbia and elsewhere.

Elsie Inglis in the First World War

Elsie herself joined the unit destined for Serbia, even though she was by then secretly battling cancer. When Germany invaded the country, she stayed for as long as she could, but was captured, held as a prisoner of war, and eventually sent back to Scotland. She didn’t stay long. Instead, she travelled to Russia where she treated Serbian and Russian troops. By now it was 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, which further complicated matters, and despite being a sick woman she refused to travel home until she had got the remaining Serbian troops out of Russia and back to safety in their home country. She lived just long enough to see this done.

With her mission complete, she left Serbia and travelled home, arriving in the UK the day before she died. Her funeral was held at Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral and she is buried in the city’s Dean Cemetery.



Other events that occured in November

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