• Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Celebrating Edinburgh’s alumni on International Women’s Day

ByAilsa Nixon

Mar 12, 2020

Since being allowed to enrol in 1892, remarkable women at the University of Edinburgh have overcome considerable adversity to become drivers of equality and excellence in their fields.

Flora Philip began studying in Edinburgh in 1883 with the Edinburgh Association for the University Education of Women. Flora clearly excelled, receiving the Edinburgh University Certificate in Arts in 1885 and becoming the Society of Mathematics’ first female member a year later; a significant achievement considering the prevailing attitudes of the day. ​In 1889, the Universities Act (Scotland) provided the change in law needed for Scottish universities to admit women. The University of Edinburgh did so in 1892 meaning ​that, in 1893, Flora was able to graduate, along with seven other pioneering female students.

Gertrude Herzfeld graduated from the university in 1914. Her lengthy list of accomplishments includes being the first female house surgeon at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, helping to found the Edinburgh Orthopaedic Clinic and being the first woman to ‘take her seat’ in the Royal College of Surgeons. Later in her career, she promoted the cause of women in medicine, remembering the challenges she had faced as a young female student​.

Agnes Yewande Savage was another incredible woman who graduated from Edinburgh Medical School. Not only was she the first West African woman to train and qualify in orthodox medicine, she did so with first class honours in all subjects, a prize in ‘Diseases of the Skin’, and a medal in Forensic Medicine. After graduating she joined the colonial service in the Gold Coast (present day-Ghana) as a junior officer. Though better qualified than most of her male counterparts, she received considerably fewer benefits. She did not let this stop her, so went back to the colonial medical service to be in charge of the infant welfare clinics. She also supervised the establishment of a training school for nurses, helping others to excel.

This list of inspiring women could go on. Each of these women pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable and refused to take no for an answer. Not only did they empower themselves, but they also empowered other women to follow in their footsteps.

Image: the first Scottish women to graduate from the university, via commons.wikimedia.com