We are pleased to announce that our 181st Blue Plaque has been unveiled. Sited at 8, Park Square, Leeds, LS1 2LH, it celebrates the life and work of Dr Edith Pechey.
A most extraordinary woman whose life began in 1845 in Langham, Essex. She came to Leeds in 1863 to teach but her calling was not teaching but medicine. Gaining qualifications in medicine was an almost impossible hurdle to jump as women were barred from university education including medical schools. Sophia Jex-Blake a wealthy young woman challenged this and applied to every medical school in Britain. Only Edinburgh replied saying it was too difficult to make arrangements for one woman so she advertised for women to join her in a group application. Six joined and one of those was Edith.
Known as the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ they encountered much discrimination and worse during their studies. Edith received her degree in 1877 but had to go to King and Queen’s College of physicians in Dublin for her licence. She was only the third woman to be registered as a doctor in Britain.
She now was able to open her own practice which she did in Leeds at 8 Park Square. The medical establishment continued to refuse her access to the hospitals or to the Public Dispensary so she opened her own Dispensary for Women and Children in Mill Street, Holbeck in 1881.
In 1883 Edith travelled to Vienna to obtain further surgical experience. Whilst there she received a letter about the setting up of a hospital for women in India. She sold her Leeds practice to Dr Alice Ker and left for Mumbai. In 1883 she took up the role of Senior Medical Officer at the Cama Hospital for Women and Children which still exists.
It was while she was in India that she met her husband, Herbert Phipson, and together they opened a sanatorium for poorer working women who needed to convalesce. This closed only in 1964.
Ill health forced Edith to leave hospital work but she did practise privately and when bubonic plague and cholera broke out she worked closely with Dr Waldemar Haffkine to roll out a highly effective vaccine programme which he had developed.
She returned to England in 1905 and set up home in Folkestone at a time when campaigning for Women’s Suffrage was gaining momentum.
Sadly, she died in 1908 of breast cancer.
A most extraordinary woman who battled on many fronts to secure for all modern women the chance to be a doctor.
Jane Taylor Chair
The plaque was unveiled by suffrage historian Vine Pemberton Joss and sponsored by DAC Beachcroft.