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News > Alumnae > A proposed blue plaque for Sophia Jex-Blake (OQ 1858)

A proposed blue plaque for Sophia Jex-Blake (OQ 1858)

Fawcett Society Supports Queen's College's Call for Blue Plaque for Dr Sophia Jex-Blake
23 Mar 2020
Alumnae

As part of our programme of events which marked International Women’s Day in March 2020, the Chair of our Feminist Society approached English Heritage to apply for a blue plaque on the College to commemorate Dr Sophia Jex-Blake who was both a pupil and a teacher at Queen’s in the 1850s-1860s.  There is currently no English Heritage blue plaque commemorating a female doctor anywhere on Harley Street which, given the street’s iconic status as the most famous medical street in the world, seems a glaring omission.
 
Jex-Blake was arguably the leading figure in the campaign for women to access higher education and qualify as doctors. She was the first woman to matriculate at a British university, the first female doctor in Scotland and only the third woman to practise medicine in the UK. Jex-Blake was the leader of the Edinburgh Seven, a group of women who fought for the right to graduate from university (and were famously mobbed by 200 people pelting them with mud and rubbish as they tried to sit an anatomy exam, in what became known as the Surgeon’s Hall Riot.) Jex-Blake was later a co-founder (along with her friend, Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson) of the London School of Medicine for Women, which was the first medical school in Britain to train women as doctors.
 
The school’s application for a blue plaque to commemorate Jex-Blake at Queen’s College, London is supported by CEO of the Fawcett Society:
 
“Dr Sophia Jex-Blake was undoubtedly a hugely important figure in the struggle for women’s rights to higher education. As the founder of the Edinburgh Seven, she paved the way for the legislation that finally allowed women to graduate from university and qualify as doctors in the UK.  The fact that there is no blue plaque to a female doctor on Harley Street clearly needs addressing. Given Jex-Blake’s significant contribution to opening up the medical profession to women, and her years teaching and studying at Queen’s College on Harley Street, she is the ideal candidate for this important recognition,” said Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society.
 
Emily Halstead, the Chair of the Feminist Society at Queen’s College commented:
“Jex-Blake spent her years in London either studying or teaching here at Queen’s College on Harley Street; it was very much the centre of her London world and the institution which both inspired and equipped her academically for her ground-breaking career,” said Emily Halstead, the Chair of the Feminist Society at Queen’s College, London.
English Heritage's initial response was disappointing as they say they don't typically erect blue plaques on schools. However, we are aware that another Old Queen, Frances Buss, is commemorated with a blue plaque on a school where she was Headmistress so we are hopeful that English Heritage might make an exception for Jex-Blake.  Richard Tillett, The Principal of Queen’s College, London, added:
 
“Queen’s College, London was the first school in the UK to grant academic qualifications to women. We are disappointed by the initial response from English Heritage but will continue to campaign for a plaque here to commemorate one of our most pioneering alumnae.  We believe it would be particularly fitting to celebrate one of the very first female doctors in the UK on this iconic street which is, of course, synonymous with medical excellence around the world.”

The school’s campaign was covered by The Independent. We will continue to campaign to commemorate Jex-Blake with a plaque here on Harley Street!

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