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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Institutions


London School of Medicine for Women

Also known as London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women/Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine for Women/Royal Free and University College Medical School


It was founded in 1874 by Sophia Jex-Blake to train women as doctors, after earlier attempts, including the Female Medical Society (1864–1869) and Ladies’ Medical College, had failed

Percy Edmunds wrote to the British Medical Journal in 1911 to argue for recognition of the support offered by his father, Dr James Edmunds, to the School in its early years, although as he noted, “he was not altogether favourable to carrying the medical education of women to the point of enabling them to become registered” (letter to BMJ, 18 March 1911)

It was threatened with closure or merger in 1946, 1968, and 1980, but successfully resisted on each occasion

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

It finally merged with University College Hospital Medical School in 1998 to form the Royal Free and University College Medical School

The purpose-built building on Hunter Street became in the late twentieth century another pioneering medical institution, the British College of Acupuncture, which was still there when the building was Grade II listed in 1999

By 2008 this building had become yet another medical centre, the NHS Hunter Street Health Centre

What was reforming about it?

It was the first institution in the UK opened specifically in order to train women as doctors, and the first UK institution to succeed in doing so through legally-approved procedures rather than loopholes

It quickly became associated with the Royal Free Hospital, which opened its wards to the students in 1877; the working relationship was eventually reflected in the change of name to the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women in 1898

Where in Bloomsbury

It opened at 30 Handel Street in 1874

This was replaced in 1897–1900 by a purpose-built building with access from Hunter Street designed by J. M. Brydon, who had also designed the purpose-built New Hospital for Women premises in 1890

It moved out of Hunter Street in 1983

Website of current institution

The successor institution is the Royal Free and University College Medical School (opens in new window)

London School of Medicine for Women, Hunter Street

Books about it

Sophia Jex-Blake, Medical Women: A Thesis and a History (1885)

Isabel Thorne, Sketch of the Foundation and Development of the London School of Medicine for Women (1905)

Lynne A. Amidon, An Illustrated History of the Royal Free Hospital (1996)

There is also some account of its importance in Anne Witz, Professions and Patriarchy (1995)

Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle (2002)


Its archives are held at the Royal Free Hospital Archives Centre in Hampstead, ref. GB 1530 SM; more details are available online via the Hospital’s website, www.royalfree.nhs.uk (opens in new window) and also via the Genesis project of the Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University (opens in new window)

This page last modified 19 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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