The entrance to the London Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine for Women.
Speech and language therapists are overwhelmingly female. Don’t ask me why- but I graduated from my training (at UCL) with nearly 40 other women. The building I studied in was and is called Chandler House. And speech and language therapists (SLTs) still train and study here. As do the SLT PhD students. I recently found out the origins of our modest, by UCL standards, building. And it’s quite inspiring. The building was built for a formidable women named Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson. She was by all accounts a determined and passionate person – keen to study medicine at a time when people like Henry Maudsley (famous for improving the standard of mental healthcare) stated that women, such as Elizabeth, should not be educated too much as their feeble minds wouldn’t handle it and they would all be driven to hysteria.
Although women could not study medicine Elizabeth nevertheless attended all the medical lectures and, tired of having her thrown out, she was allowed to stay. Eventually having completed all the required teaching Elizabeth was the first women to qualify as a doctor in Britain in 1865 when she passed the Society of Apothecaries exam- they promptly forbade further women from taking these exams. But it was not until 1873 that she became the first female member of the British Medical Association.
Chandler House was a consequent development of her successful medical career. In 1874 Elizabeth co-founded the first school of medicine to train women; The London School of Medicine for Women. They occupied a large house around the corner from where Chandler House stands. By 1897 the school had become too big (170 students) and Elizabeth employed her friend and architect JM Brydon to rebuild the building where it currently stands between Wakefield street, Handel street and Hunter street. As dean of the school Elizabeth saw the school join the London University in 1883 and later the Royal Free School of Medicine – part of UCL. Building work on the school finished in 1897/1899.
A decorative stone from outside the building- I haven’t found much evidence of what these symbols mean. My guess is the G stands for Garrett, the B for Brydon (the architect) and the S for Sophia Jex-Blake who co-founded the medical school with Garrett.
The school lives by the love and labour of those who serve her
The ceiling rose.
Elizabeth created a place for people, for women, to love learning. The building has now been divided, and hosts not only part of the UCL department I work in, but also a GP surgery and a Health Centre. Our part of the building previously housed the laboratories and taught chemistry, physiology, anatomy and physics! The building has been praised for its excellent examples of handsome Queen Anne style architecture and there are certainly some lovely features. There is an old board room with rather important wooden paneling, a fantastical ceiling rose and an arch in the hallway reminding us to love learning to keep the school alive.
Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson came from moderately humble beginnings – her father was an entrepreneur who set up and expanded his malting business in Aldeburgh. Elizabeth was the second of eight children. She and her sisters were educated initially at home and then at a boarding school. Her father supported her in her endeavours to become a medical doctor, both financially and otherwise. Yet Elizabeth was not the only impressive Garrett sister. Millicent Garrett was an influential member of the British Women’s Suffrage Committee.
It was only recently that I was part of a twitter discussion (a mini storm) on our role as clinical academics. We all agreed we must advocate and fight for this career pathway. We must push for equal opportunities alongside medical professionals. Elizabeth is an inspiring story of what a women can achieve in mans world. I imagine she would approve of our mission and would support us in our ventures.
About Chandler House: