The exhibit used rarely seen and newly discovered evidence, revealing some of Britain’s earliest female clinicians. Among the items, a 14th century charter asserted the existence of a set of medical siblings: one brother and his two sisters, the women doctors Solicita and Matilda. Alice Leevers also featured in the exhibit, a woman who was tried and punished on several occasions for illegally practising medicine. Although other women were imprisoned for ‘impersonating’ doctors, Alice was finally allowed to go about her business in peace following the intervention of the Lord Chamberlain in 1586.
The 17th century yielded an array of fascinating figures and artefacts. Medical recipe books by Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent and the mysteriously named ‘Madame Pyne’, jostled for the viewer’s attention with the 1680s advertisement for the services and products of ‘Agondice: the woman physician’. Many women publicised their healing prowess at this time, however few were as bold as Agondice in openly declaring themselves a doctor.
Though some women were, through a combination of such boldness, skill and good fortune able to continue in their chosen profession, others were not. A legal bond on display in the exhibit, dated 24 February 1709 records that Elizabeth Pratt agreed to immediately cease all medical practice and take down a sign for her services. In this case the authorities had good cause: Elizabeth had administered Mary Morecock ‘crude mercury’ for a sore throat, resulting in the patient’s death.