Past exhibition: "This vexed question": 500 years of women in medicine
Royal College of Physicians

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?

“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

This exhibition explores the histories of well-known pioneers and uncovers previously hidden medical women.  Featuring RCP President 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.

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.

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

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

 British Medical Journal, 1862

 This exhibition is now closed. Contact for more information. 

RCP Exhibition Tour: ‘This vexed question’: 500 years of women in medicine


Join Dr Kristin Hussey and Briony Hudson on this curator’s tour of ‘This vexed question’: 500 years of women in medicine. This temporary exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) marked the RCP’s 500th anniversary as well as other historic milestones including NHS70, Vote100 and the centenary of the First World War. In this film, Kristin and Briony explore the stories of pioneering medical women as well as unsung heroes. Delving into themes including gender norms, the suffragette movement, medicine in early modern London and interrogating who really was Britain’s first woman doctor – the exhibition explored ‘the vexing question’ of women in medicine from 1518 to 2018.