After training at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, newly qualified Staff Nurses usually headed to Simpson’s or The Elsie Inglis to do their midder training. As RIE student nurses, we’d been taken to the room where Sir John Simpson had ‘discovered’ chloroform, the wonder drug which would be used to induce anaesthesia in childbirth. (Simpson and some of his medical friends experimented with the drug one evening – Simpson was the first to wake up next morning so he got to claim the discovery.)
But what of Elsie Inglis? What was her story?
Born in India in 1864 to supportive, liberal Scottish parents, Elsie Inglis attended the newly founded Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, before completing her training at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
After working at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s ‘New Hospital for Women’ in London, and a maternity hospital in Dublin, she returned to Edinburgh where she opened a medical practice. An active suffragist, she was horrified by the lack of medical care available to women, and opened a maternity hospital and midwifery centre in 1894.
When World War One broke out she approached the British War Office with the idea to set up a Scottish Women’s Hospital to care for the soldiers fighting overseas. ‘My good woman,’ came the response, ‘go home and sit still!‘
Undaunted she approached the French who were much more sympathetic. Funded by the Women’s Suffrage Movement, these all female staffed hospitals sent teams to France, Serbia, Salonika, Romania, Malta and Corsica. Captured in Serbia in 1915, Elsie Inglis was repatriated to the UK where she then created and led a new team to set up a Scottish Women’s Hospital in Russia.
When Elsie Inglis died of cancer in 1917, Winston Churchill said of her, ‘Inglis and her nurses will shine in history‘.
In July 1925, the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital opened in Edinburgh with 20 beds. When it closed in 1988, it had expanded to provide 82 beds.
The Clydesdale Bank honoured Dr Elsie Inglis and her work by putting her likeness on their 50 pound bank note in 2002.