London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women wording above fanlight of entrance.
Former London School of Medicine for Women. © Historic England / Contribution by Dominic Martin. View the List entry.
Former London School of Medicine for Women. © Historic England / Contribution by Dominic Martin. View the List entry.

Buildings For Training Nurses, Doctors… and Mothers!

Former London School of Medicine for Women

8 Hunter Street, Bloomsbury, London 1897-1900 by JM Brydon
Listed Grade II in 1999

This school of medicine for women was founded in 1874 by a group of women, led by Sophia Jex-Blake, who had been expelled from Edinburgh University after beginning their medical training. Beginning in a small house in Henrietta Street, (renamed Handel Street in 1888), the school moved to purpose-built premises on the same site at the turn of the century.

At first, the new students relied on sympathetic male doctors to teach them, and it was three years before the School persuaded the (then nearby) Royal Free Hospital to open its wards to the female students - the first teaching hospital in Britain to do so.

In 1898 the School officially became the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women, and it is this name that features above the door of the Hunter Street building.

The School was further enlarged in 1914, when the number of women wishing to study medicine made it necessary to double the number of laboratories and lecture rooms. At this time the school had over 300 students, making it the largest of the women's university colleges in Britain.

The School was noted for its strong links with other countries, beginning in 1890 when the first Indian female student enrolled. Its students also went abroad to help train female doctors in cultures where women could not be seen by male doctors. This part of its mission was encouraged by Queen Victoria, who felt very strongly that all her subjects in the Empire should have access to proper medical treatment.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital for Women

Euston Road, London 1889-90 by JM Brydon
Listed Grade II in 2003

While the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital for Women might easily be included in the pages describing women's hospitals, its significance as a hospital staffed exclusively by women doctors is far greater. This was a landmark institution in terms of women's admittance to professional life, as well as in terms of health care.

The hospital was opened in 1890 as the New Hospital for Women, and was the first purpose-built hospital devoted to the treatment of female patients by women doctors. The foundation stone had been laid by the Princess of Wales in 1889; Brydon exhibited drawings of the building at the 1890 Royal Academy. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) had led the movement for women doctors, and had founded a hospital ward at her dispensary in Marylebone in 1874.

The Euston Road hospital combined teaching hospital provision (it initially had 42 beds) with premises for the Women's Medical Institute, situated on the ground floor of the frontage block.

Elizabeth House

Winchester Place, Haringey, London, 1930 by Richardson and Gill
Listed Grade II in 2005

Elizabeth House was built in 1928-30 to the designs of Richardson and Gill and at the instigation of the Mothercraft Training Society (formerly the Babies of the Empire Society). The new building was opened by Queen Elizabeth, the wife of George VI, who was herself a new mother at this time: the future Elizabeth II was born in 1926, Princess Margaret in 1930.

The hostel was originally called the Princess Elizabeth Hostel in honour of the four-year-old future queen. The first matron was Mabel Liddiard CBE, author of The Mothercraft Manual (1924), president of the Royal College of Midwives and founder of the Mothercraft Training Society. Liddiard trained under Sir Truby King, a pioneer of the child welfare movement.

The Mothercraft Training Society built Elizabeth House to encourage innovative methods of baby-care. New and prospective mothers would stay in the hostel for a fixed term and, under the tutelage of live-in nurses, learn to breast-feed at regular intervals, look after babies in airy and light surroundings, follow dietary plans which enriched breast-milk, and recognise symptoms of common causes of infant mortality such as malnourishment and diarrhoea.

A programme of lectures and open days also trained external nurses and local new mothers in the principles of baby care. In addition, the Society managed a health clinic and day-centre.

Tredegar House

Bow Road, Tower Hamlets, London 1911-12 by Rowland Plumbe
Listed Grade II in 2009

Tredegar House was built as a Training Home for Pupil Probationers for the London Hospital.

The original plans of February 1911 survive and show the building had a lecture room, dining room, sitting room, and large 'practical classroom' along with bedrooms for 30 probationers and bed-sitting rooms for the sisters. Rowland Plumbe, the architect and Hospital Surveyor, himself contributed £5,000 to the cost of building work. The new home replaced a Georgian house on Bow Road of the same name, which had been donated to the hospital by Lord Tredegar.

From the mid-late 19th century a small number of hospitals established training programmes for nurses. The London Hospital first did so in 1880; in 1896, under Matron Eva Lückes, the hospital moved into the vanguard by establishing a pioneering seven-week preliminary course comprising lectures, practical work and, distinctively, an examination at the end.

Twenty-eight probationers were taught anatomy, physiology, bacteriology and hygiene and shown how to read temperatures, bandage, keep reports of special cases and other nursing skills. The course allowed probationers to 'pause on the threshold' before deciding whether to enter the wards, and ensured the hospital had dedicated, competent staff. Edith Cavell took the course in 1901 and established a similar institution in Belgium.