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Sophia Jex-Blake
(1840 - 1912) U.K.

Sophia Jex-Blake

Doctor, educator, and women's rights advocate

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Sophia Jex-Blake was born, the daughter of Thomas Jex-Blake and Mary Cubitt, at Hastings. She was christened in St Clement's Church, just yards from the house where she lived until her family moved to Brighton in 1851. Thomas Jex-Blake was a successful barrister, but he had retired at the time of her birth. Sophia's parents were Evangelical Anglicans who held very traditional views on education and at first refused permission for her to study at college.

As a child she was stormy, tumultuous, and unmanageable. These qualities stood her in good stead for the struggles she faced as an adult. She originally wanted to be a teacher, but her father refused to allow her to study. He later relented and in 1858 let her attend classes at Queen's College.

Eventually Dr. Jex-Blake gave his permission and in 1858 Sophia began attending classes at Queen's College. Sophia did so well that she was asked to become a tutor of mathematics at the college. Sophia's parents believed it was wrong for middle-class women to work and only gave their approval after she agreed not to accept a salary.

Sophia taught in Germany, and in the United States where she met and stayed with Dr. Lucy Sewell. As a result of seeing Dr. Sewell run a women's dispensary, Sophia decided that she too wanted to be a doctor. It was possible for women to study and qualify as doctors in the US, but when her father died, Sophia had to return to England in 1868 to look after her mother. In England, no medical school would accept women students.

It took Sophia eight years of struggle to qualify as a doctor, because of opposition from men. Her opponents were the universities, the male students, and the British Medical Association. Sophia Jex-Blake's case generated a great deal of publicity and Russell Gurney, a M.P. who supported women's rights, decided to try and change the law. In 1876 Gurney managed to persuade Parliament to pass a bill that empowered all medical training bodies to educate and graduate women on the same terms as men.

The first educational institution to offer this opportunity to women was the Irish College of Physicians. Sophia took up their offer and qualified as a doctor in 1877. She eventually established a practice in Edinburgh where she joined the women's suffrage movement.

Sophia Jex Blake was a lesbian and never married; she once said: "I believe I love women too much ever to love a man". In 1899 she retired to Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, where she died, aged 62.

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