Today we take female doctors for granted. Many medical schools have a 50/50 intake of men and women with females in a number of leadership positions. And yet, just over a century ago, being a woman in medicine was a continual challenge frought with prejudice.
Endell Street by Wendy Moore is a meticulous account of the females who, when excluded from joining the army to care for troops on the front during the First World War, went anyway. Their hospital in Paris was renowned for its orderliness and high standards. Many of the women were suffragettes who saw an opportunity and got on with the task in hand. Women like Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson who were the first British women to operate on men. The book details the difficulties they faced and overcame, and how they were begged by British officials to open a hospital in London.
There’s nothing much left in Endell Street today to suggest it was once a pioneering hospital run by women in World War One. Much of the area has been rebuilt and houses mainly cafes, shops and offices, but if you look closely there’s a plaque on the wall.
During World War One the building was a completely different place, treating tens of thousands of wounded soldiers. Run by women, it was exemplary in its standards and pioneered new ways of treating wounds. The women still experienced prejudice from the authorities but continued to focus on the job at hand. The book, Endell Street is a remarkable account of how they achieved what they did and it raises the profile of pioneering women who are almost forgotten today. I found reading it truly inspirational.
And who would suspect, walking round Covent Garden in London, that the building on Endell Street was once a first class military hospital run almost by women.
Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain’s Trailblazing Military Hospital by Wendy Moore is published by Atlantic Books. You can buy a copy here.