This vexed question: 500 years of women in medicine

When and where

19 September 2018 to 18 January 2019
Royal College of Physicians Museum, 11 St Andrews Place, Regents Park, NW1 4LE

Past event

This vexed question: 500 years of women in medicine

'This vexed question: 500 years of women in medicine' is a new exhibition exploring the histories of well-known pioneers uncovering previously hidden medical women.

"This vexed question"

Featuring RCP president Professor Dame Jane Dacre's newly-commissioned portrait alongside Elizabeth Garrett's qualifying certificate, and 17th century handwritten recipe books next to 20th century oral histories, visitors will be able to find out more about individual women doctors and the attitudes towards them over the 500 years of the RCP’s existence.

“Is there not a much better thing for women than to be ‘medical men’ and that is to be medical women? Has not the cart been put before the horse in this women’s medical movement?"

Florence Nightingale, 1871

Women apothecaries, herbalists, writers of recipes, midwives - and of course physicians - have worked within a male-dominated world for many centuries.  Their roles have always provoked debate, which continues today. One commentator in 1870 bemoaned the ‘vexed question’ of women in medicine. Should women be allowed to train as doctors? Were they physically and mentally capable? Was there space for them in the profession? How would their male colleagues react?

Marking milestones including Vote100, the centenary of the end of the First World War, and 2018 as the first year in which men and women are expected to enter the medical profession in equal numbers, the exhibition aims to raise interesting and challenging questions around gender and medicine which are still ‘vexing’ today. 

‘A Fair Field and no Favour!’

Sophia Jex-Blake, 1872

'It is high time that this unnatural and preposterous attempt... to establish a race of feminine doctors should be exploded'

British Medical Journal, 1862

Be part of the exhibition

What would you choose to represent women in medicine today? The curators of the exhibition are opening the final section to RCP fellows and members to propose objects that illustrate the reality of working in medicine in 2018. Email your ideas to – history@rcplondon.ac.uk.

What do you think? Do women in medicine still present a ‘vexed question’ today?

#VexedQuestion