Irish Medical Women c.1880s-1920s: the origins, education and careers of early women medical graduates from Irish institutions
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This thesis examines the history of women in medicine in Ireland from the 1880s to the 1920s. It argues that Irish institutions in the period demonstrated more favourable attitudes than their British counterparts towards women studying medicine. This may be seen through the history of women¿s admission to Irish medical schools, in particular, the decision of the KQCPI to become the first medical institution in the United Kingdom to admit women following the Enabling Act of 1876, and through the treatment of women medical students while at university. And, in their professional careers, it appears that this egalitarianism continued. The thesis is the first collective biography of the 760 women who studied medicine in Ireland from the 1880s to the 1920s. It reveals that women medical students tended to come from well-to-do backgrounds but that their choice of university was dependant on religious persuasion, financial factors and on which universities were open to women at the time. With regard to their medical education, it is evident that women were treated fairly by Irish university authorities. Similarly, albeit for financial reasons, Irish hospitals appeared to have welcomed women students to their wards. Nevertheless, it is clear that in the context of Irish universities, women medical students came to occupy a world separate from the men, created literally through separate dissecting rooms and ladies' rooms while lady medicals reinforced this sense of distinction through their self-identification as a cohort. In subsequent chapters, I examine whether this paradox of egalitarianism and separatism continued in the careers of these early women doctors. My investigation of their career destinations reveals that Irish women medical graduates did not tend to enter into the careers that were expected of them, such as the missionary field and women's and children's health. Rather, women doctors were most commonly integrated into the professional sphere as general practitioners, while those who emigrated to England were more likely to work in hospitals and public health. I argue that the First World War, which is often cited as having been a breakthrough for women's employment opportunities, did not result in increased opportunities for women doctors in Ireland. Rather, opportunities for women in medicine were more limited after 1918. My in-depth examination of the lives of five Irish female medical graduates gives a deeper insight into the themes and tensions discussed in earlier chapters. This thesis suggests that medical women, with regard to their admission to medical school, experiences and careers, were treated fairly by the Irish medical hierarchy. It highlights the distinctiveness of medical education in Ireland in the period and challenges us to reconsider the way that we think about the history of women in higher education, medicine and the professions in Ireland.
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