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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 H72/SM
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1874-1998
Level of description: Sub fonds
Extent: 42 linear metres
Name of creator(s): London School of Medicine for Women
London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women
Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine


Administrative/Biographical history:

Until 1874 it was almost impossible for women to train as doctors in Britain. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was actually the first woman to qualify in Medicine, but as soon as she had done so, in 1865, the loophole which allowed her to do so was closed, preventing others from following in her footsteps.

In 1874 a group of women, led by Sophia Jex-Blake, who had been expelled from Edinburgh University after beginning their medical training, set up the first female medical school, the London School of Medicine for Women (LSMW), in a small house in Henrietta Street, (renamed Handel Street in 1888), and male doctors sympathetic to their cause agreed to teach them. The School could not at this stage offer clinical instruction, but three years later they persuaded the Royal Free Hospital to open their wards to the female students. The Royal Free thus became a teaching hospital, the first to open its doors to women and, until 1947, the only all female medical school. The arrangement between school and hospital worked so well that in 1898 the School officially became the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women. The school building was rebuilt and enlarged in 1898, the main entrance was moved to the Hunter Street side of the building, and the address changed to reflect this. The School was further enlarged in 1914, when the number of women wishing to study medicine made it necessary to practically 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. In just 40 years the number of women on the medical register had increased from two to 1000, 600 of whom were graduates of the School.

A long tradition of overseas co-operation began when the first Indian student arrived in 1890. In following years a large number of the LSMW students went abroad to help train women who came from cultures where women could not be seen by male doctors, encouraged by Queen Victoria, who felt very strongly that all her subjects in the Empire should have access to proper medical treatment.

All medical schools became co-educational in 1947, when the first two men entered LSMW and necessitated a change of name, to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. A major extension to the School was built in 1950, but conditions nevertheless remained cramped, although the School continued to be pre-eminent in medical research, known particularly for its medical unit, renal unit and haemophilia centre. When the Royal Free Hospital moved to Hampstead in 1974 the new Medical School building was planned on the same site, the last department finally moving from Hunter Street in 1983. After World War Two the School was threatened by successive government reports either with closure or with a merger with another school on three occasions (in 1946, 1968 and 1980) and each time had rejected the proposals. In 1998 however, the School finally merged with University College London to form a new school, the Royal Free and University College Medical School.

The School was originally administered by a Provisional Council, comprising 24 registered medical practitioners. In 1875 the Provisional Council handed over control to a Governing Body, consisting of its own members, and of a number of other influential friends and subscribers, with an Executive Council, who were responsible for the day-to-day administration. In 1898, with the formalisation of the link to the Hospital, the Governing Body and Executive Council were replaced by a Council, with four ex-officio members, including the Dean, and two representatives of the Hospital. The Council was advised by the larger School Committee, mainly comprising the teaching staff of the School. The School Committee was renamed the Education Committee in 1930. In later years several committees reported to the Council or School/Education Committee, of which the most important was the Finance Committee.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Royal Free Hospital Medical School (RFHSM) (formerly the London School of Medicine for Women (LSMW) and the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women, 1874-1998, comprising:

Administrative records, 1874-1998: Annual Reports (printed), 1874-1997; Governing Body minutes 1875-1898; Executive Council minutes 1874-1898; Members of the School minutes 1898-1998, register of Vice Presidents and Members, 1898-1953; Council minutes 1898-1998; Joint meeting between Council and Royal Free Hospital Weekly Board minutes 1928-1943; School Committee [renamed Education Committee in 1930] minutes 1898-1998; Secretary's letter books 1897-1908; volume of letters relating to the foundation and early history of the School and medical education for women, including two letters by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, 1874-1882; Agenda Books for College Committees, 1933-1985; Attendance Books for College Committees, 1942-1998; minutes and reports of temporary and standing sub-committees of Council and School/Education Committee, 1902-1958; Heads of Department meeting minutes 1966-1998; Pathology Unit Joint Committee minutes 1931-1948; Joint Garden Committee (with University of London School of Pharmacy) minutes 1955-1966; Animal House Committee minutes 1933-1975; Interdepartmental Workshop Sub-Committee minutes 1951-1978; General Staff Meeting minutes 1925-1939.

Financial records including minutes of meetings minutes of meetings of the four original Trustees of the School, A T Norton, Dr King Chambers, Isabel Thorne and Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake, 1874-1875; selection of audited accounts, 1875-1900; Finance Committee minutes 1910-1978; Gift Books, 1925, 1945-1957.

Student Records: Prospectus (printed) 1874-1998; Register of Students, 1874-1927; Register of Qualified Students, 1877-1951; Register of Clinical Students, 1877-1948; Register of recipients of the Dr Edith Peachey Phipson Postgraduate Scholarship, 1912-1948; Registers of results of school examinations, 1874-1916; Registers of results of professional examinations, 1890-1920; student files 1874-1949 (records for 1874-1891 are incomplete), containing copy of application form, some files also contain attendance and examination records, correspondence and additional biographical information; Students' Council minutes 1905-1914; Students' Union minutes 1914-1970; Students' Union Committee minutes 1914-1971; Students Union Finance Committee minutes 1917-1959; copies of School/Hospital Magazine 1895-1974; Club and Society records, 1941-1961, including Languages Society, 1941-1942, Natural History Society, 1956-1960, Netball Club 1956-1960, Tennis Club 1956-1960, Table-tennis Club 1950-1961 and Lacrosse Club 1952-1959; Students' Aid Fund papers 1942-1970; Sports Ground Advisory Committee minutes and reports, 1926-1929; Old Students' Association financial records including Annual Accounts and Balance Sheets, 1930-1965.

Library records including Library Sub-Committee minutes 1894-1979; account books 1932-1983; acquisition lists 1901-1932; copy of Library Rules [c1894].

Legal and Estates papers including Memorandum and Articles of Association of the School of Medicine, 1898, with related correspondence, 1918-1939, copies of Constitution of the School, 1878, 1890, 1908, with related correspondence, 1926-1931; petitions, drafts and final versions of Charter and Statutes, 1938, and revisions, 1947, 1961), with related correspondence, 1925-1976 and copies of the University of London Act and Statutes, 1959, 1978; Agreements made between the Royal Free Hospital and School of Medicine, 1877, 1883, 1887, 1893, 1898, 1904, 1911, and 1931, with related correspondence, 1892-1936; Correspondence relating to the attempt by the School to purchase the freehold of the land of the School buildings from Foundling Estates, 1925-1927; correspondence relating to the purchase of 72-84 Tavistock Place, and to the construction of an extension to the School, 1938-1953; inventory of fixtures etc at the Pavilion (30 Henrietta St), 1874; inventory and insurance valuation of furniture and effects at the School, 1941.

Correspondence and papers on School Centenary celebrations, 1973-1975.

Photographs of school buildings, staff and students, 1874-1998.

Ephemera, including photographs, papers, medals, prizes and biographical information relating to former staff and students of the School, 1874-1998, mainly donated by alumni and their families or collected by the Honorary Archivists.

Publications and press cuttings on the history of medical education for women, 1869-2001.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Papers arranged according to originating department or depositor. Where possible, ephemeral items relating to individual students have been filed with the official records produced by the Registry.

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright is held by the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The majority of the official records described here were collected together by Professor Ruth Bowden, honorary archivist of the School of Medicine, prior to her mounting a centenary exhibition of the School's history in 1974. When the School moved from Hunter Street to Hampstead in 1982-1983 these records were stored in the Library, but joined the hospital archives in 1992. More ephemeral material, such as photographs and press cuttings, as well as correspondence, had been kept in the library, indexed and administered by the Librarian and her secretary since the 1950s. These were transferred to the archives in a series of accessions, the latest in 2000. Later accessions of official records came to the Centre in 1998 on the merger of the School with University College. The records were transferred along with the Royal Free Hospital and associated collections from the Royal Free Hospital Archives Centre to London Metropolitan Archives in 2013.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in December 2013.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Student Records 1948-1998 are held by the Royal Free School of Medicine Registry.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Sketch of the Foundation and Development of the London School of Medicine for Women by Isabel Thorne, London 1905; Medical Women: A Thesis and a History by Sophia Jex Blake, London, 1885; An Illustrated History of the Royal Free Hospital by Lynne A Amidon, published by the Special Trustees of the Royal Free Hospital, London, 1996.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled Mar 2001, revised by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), 2nd edition, 1999 and National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Created 15 Mar 2001, modified Nov 2001 and May 2014.

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