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“Deeds Not Words”

In the week we are celebrating the emancipation of women this is a riveting Roy’s Read!

Historian John Bull has written a timely article (available here) which reminds us of the pioneering work undertaken by two women suffragettes during World War One.

One hundred years ago, a flag containing the words “Votes for Women” was raised in the courtyard of Endell Street Military Hospital – the first British Army Military hospital to be run and staffed entirely by women suffragettes.

The hospital was established in 1915, to treat the injured of World War One, by Flora Murray (Doctor in Charge) and Louisa Garrett Anderson (Chief Surgeon), amidst great opposition.  By the time it closed its doors in 1919 it had performed over 7,000 operations, (often up to 20 operations a day), treated over 26,000 patients in 573 beds, published 7 articles in The Lancet and had made significant advances in the treatment of wounds.  The hospital used the suffragette motto of “Deeds not Words” to describe its ethos.

Both Flora and Louisa trained at the London School of Medicine for Women – the first to train women – and became firm friends as well as being heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Together they founded a Women’s Hospital for Children in 1912.

When the first World War commenced in 1914, both women felt a duty to put their skills to good use.  Realising they were unlikely to receive backing from the War Office, they visited the French Embassy with a plan to raise, equip and fund a hospital to assist the French army.  With the support of the Embassy and the French Red Cross, they raised over £2000, (£160,000 today), to establish their hospital in the disused Hotel Claridge in Paris.   This hospital soon gained a reputation as one of the foremost hospitals for the treatment of both British and French war casualties.  Based on this reputation, the women were then given permission to open another military hospital closer to the fighting in Wimereux.

In 1915, a need was recognized for new military hospitals back home in England.  Despite their good work, and professional reputation, the women still faced opposition from most of the Establishment.  However, they found an ally in Sir Alfred Keogh, Director General of Army Medical Services, who asked them to set up an RAMC Military Hospital in Endell Street.

The hospital opened in 1915, and despite ongoing opposition, it quickly gained a reputation as one of the foremost military hospitals in London.  Indeed the hospital turned this opposition to its advantage – using it to trial new ideas such as the use of Bismuth Iodine Paraffine (BIPP) Paste on surgical wounds.  The women were also pioneers in their ability to consider the psychological health of the patient as well as their physical health – the wards were painted with bright colours, properly lit and contained flowers.

In 1917 both Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson were awarded the CBE.

Endell Street Military Hospital closed in 1919 and Murray and Garrett Anderson returned to the Childrens Hospital they had founded before the war.  However, whilst some of the female staff went on to forge illustrious careers, most found their careers stalled due to prejudice, for example, none of the surgeons were offered the opportunity to perform major surgery again.

Flora Murray died aged 54 in 1923, and Louise Garrett Anderson died aged 70 in 1943.

To read the full article then please visit:  Bull J (2018)  Deeds Not Words: The Women of Endell Street