London Metropolitan Archives - Item Details


Date of Creation:


Reference Code:


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Scope and Content:
  • The London School of Medicine for Women collection documents the foundation of the School, its management and administration, its association with the Royal Free Hospital, and its merger with University College London School of Medicine. The student records show the training students received, their experience at the School, and details of their subsequent careers. The early records also give a wider insight into women's struggle to enter the medical profession, and contemporary attitudes to their suitability for it.

    Student records are normally closed for 100 years.
Extent: 42 linear metres
Classification: HOSPITALS
Former Reference: SM 0.235.013
Site Location: London Metropolitan Archives
Level of Description:

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Administrative History:
  • The London School of Medicine for Women was the first medical school in Britain to allow women to train to become fully qualified doctors. Many pioneering women doctors trained and worked at the School, including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Louisa Aldrich-Blake, and Mary Scharlieb.

    Until 1874 it was almost impossible for women to train as doctors in Britain. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who was Dean of the School from 1883-1903, was actually the first woman to qualify in Medicine, but as soon as she had done so, in 1865, the loophole which allowed her to do so was closed, preventing others from following in her footsteps.

    The London School of Medicine for Women was set up by a group of pioneering women physicians, led by Sophia Jex-Blake, who had been expelled from Edinburgh University after beginning their medical training, together with some male doctors who supported women's entry into the medical profession. It was the first medical school in Britain to admit women, and the only school to do so until 1886.

    The School opened in 1874, in a small house in Henrietta Street, off Brunswick Square. At first, students were taught in laboratories and classrooms at the School by a group of male lecturers. Then in 1877, an agreement was reached with the Royal Free Hospital <>, which allowed students at the London School of Medicine for Women to complete their clinical studies on its wards. The Royal Free Hospital was the first teaching hospital in London to admit women for training. In recognition of this relationship, in 1898 the School changed its name to The London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women.

    The School building was rebuilt and enlarged in 1898. The main entrance was moved to the Hunter Street side of the building, and the address changed to reflect this. The School was further enlarged in 1914, when the number of women wishing to study medicine made it necessary to practically double the number of laboratories and lecture rooms. At this time the school had over 300 students, making it the largest of the women's university colleges in Britain. In just 40 years the number of women on the medical register had increased from two to 1000, 600 of whom were graduates of the School.

    The School was noted for its strong links with other countries, beginning in 1890 when the first Indian female student enrolled. Many students went abroad to help train female doctors in cultures where women could not be seen by male doctors. This part of the School's mission was encouraged by Queen Victoria, who felt very strongly that all her subjects in the Empire should have access to proper medical treatment.

    Increasing numbers of students were admitted, particularly when the First World War took many male medical students overseas. Past students of the School did valiant work for the war effort at this time, voluntarily staffing all-female medical units across Europe, and female medical students who were refugees from European universities also joined the School temporarily.

    The School remained women-only until 1948, when all medical schools became co-educational under the newly inaugurated National Health Service (NHS). This necessitated another change of name for the School, to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine.

    By the 1950s, the School was pre-eminent in medical research, known particularly for its Medical Unit, renal unit and haemophilia centre.

    When the Royal Free Hospital moved to Hampstead in 1974, the school followed, finally moving all its activities from Hunter Street by 1983.

    After World War Two the School was threatened by three successive government reports (in 1946, 1968 and 1980), either with closure or with merger with another school. Each time the School rejected the proposals. In 1998 however, the School finally merged with University College London to form a new school, the Royal Free and University College Medical School. In October 2008 it was officially renamed UCL Medical School.
Creator: London School of Medicine for Women
London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women
Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine
Custodial History: The majority of the official records described here were collected together by Professor Ruth Bowden, honorary archivist of the School of Medicine, prior to her mounting a centenary exhibition of the School's history in 1974. When the School moved from Hunter Street to Hampstead in 1982-1983 these records were stored in the Library, but joined the hospital archives in 1992. More ephemeral material, such as photographs and press cuttings, as well as correspondence, had been kept in the library, indexed and administered by the Librarian and her secretary since the 1950s. These were transferred to the archives in a series of accessions, the latest in 2000. Later accessions of official records came to the Centre in 1998 on the merger of the School with University College.
Access Restrictions: These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 2018
Arrangement: Where possible, papers arranged according to originating department. Photographs and ephemera are organised by subject.
Related Material: Student Records 1948-1998 are held by the Registry at UCL Medical School, Royal Free Campus. Administrative records post-1998 are held by UCL Medical School.
Papers relating to the merger of the school with University College London can be found under reference LMA/4068.
Publication Notes:

Sketch of the Foundation and Development of the London School of Medicine for Women by Isabel Thorne, London 1905;Medical Women: A Thesis and a History by Sophia Jex Blake, London, 1885.
An Illustrated History of the Royal Free Hospital by Lynne A. Amidon, published by the Special Trustees of the Royal Free Hospital, London, 1996.