In conversation: Activism, medicine and the fight for equality
Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, Regents Park, NW1 4LE

A woman and a doctor? Activism, medicine and the fight for equality in the early 20th century

In conversation with Dr Lesley Hall and Dr Claire Brock 

A staff member of the London School of Medicine for Women said in the early twentieth century, ‘Medicine is a jealous mistress and those who would win her favours must not worship at any other shrine.’ While women had been registered doctors in Britain since the 1860s, the larger question of what it meant to be a woman and a doctor took on new urgency in the early twentieth century. Could you be a doctor and a suffragette? Should women doctors model themselves on male doctors or be something completely different? Did gender matter at all?

Part of the public programme for the RCP museum exhibition 'This vexed question': 500 years of women in medicine  (19 September - 18 January 2019); this ‘in conversation’ evening with Dr Lesley Hall and Dr Claire Brock will speak about activism, gender and the tumultuous turn of the twentieth century for women doctors and surgeons. Through short lectures and guided discussion, this event will delve into challenging questions around women’s careers, family lives and roles in political movements of this period.


Suffragette procession showing the delegation of women doctors, 1910
Suffragette procession showing the delegation of women doctors, 1910. Image Courtesy of the Women’s Library collection at the London School of Economics


6pm: Drinks reception

6.15pm: Exhibition tour of ‘This vexed question’

7pm: short talks by Lesley Hall and Claire Brock

7.40pm: Lesley Hall and Claire Brock in conversation with RCP curator, Dr Kristin Hussey

8.15pm (approx.): Exhibition viewing and pay bar

9pm: close


Short talks

Battles not yet won: women doctors between the Wars Dr Lesley Hall

Women doctors had proved their capacities during the Great War. Yet, after the War, and following the (limited) grant of suffrage, the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act and various other legislation which appeared to improve the position of women; women in medicine still faced difficulties. Informal prejudices against appointing women to hospital posts or in certain specialisms continued. There were also formal constraints militating against women entering medical education in the first place, and pursuing a career once they had qualified. While the Medical Women's Federation undertook collective action to improve women’s status in the profession, individual women endeavoured to negotiate careers for themselves that would use their skills. The battles were very far from won.

Vexing Questions for Medical Women, 1860-1918 Dr Claire Brock

This talk will consider the vexed questions faced by the first few generations of medical women and the ways in which they were debated. Key areas of concern included who to treat and how and where to treat them, professional obligations versus political convictions, and the best ways to promote what Elizabeth Garrett Anderson labelled 'the cause'. By the end of the Great War, were medical women fighting together or against each other?

Dr Lesley Hall








Dr Lesley Hall, PhD, FRHistS, DipAA, was Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library for many years, where she catalogued the archives of the Medical Women’s Federation and the papers of many distinguished women doctors as well as records of organisations with which they worked. She has also published extensively on the history of gender and sexuality in the UK in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an area in which women doctors featured significantly.

Claire Brock











Dr Claire Brock is Associate Professor in the School of Arts at the University of Leicester. Her most recent book is British Women Surgeons and their Patients, 1860-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), research for which was funded by the Wellcome Trust. She is currently working on a companion volume, which will consider women in surgery between 1918 and 1945.


£8 standard, £5 concessions (plus Eventbrite booking fee)

Concessions include full-time students, retired and unemployed.

Tickets include a drink on arrival and option of a free exhibition tour at 6.15pm. Tour places are limited. 

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The RCP is fully wheelchair accessible. Lifts and ramps on all floors. please ask reception staff for assistance with the glass lift in the main foyer. Folding museum stools are available in the exhibition space.



Accessible toilets

Baby changing facilities


Assistance dogs are welcome

If you have any questions about accessibility, please email or see the building information on the main RCP website.