University of Edinburgh awards posthumous degrees to trailblazing Victorian female medical students the Edinburgh Seven

A group of Victorian women who were among the first female students ever admitted to a UK university have been awarded posthumous honorary degrees by the University of Edinburgh — 150 years after they began their studies.

Mary Anderson, Emily Bovell, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Sophia Jex-Blake, Edith Pechey and Isabel Thorne — who became known as the Edinburgh Seven — enrolled to study medicine at the University in 1869.

But after facing resistance from their peers and other groups they were barred from graduating and as a result becoming qualified doctors.

And not ones to remain silent about what they had endured, they campaigned against their treatment gaining prominent supporters including Charles Darwin.

Their actions resulted in legislation in 1877 which ensured women could study at university.

Their campaign against such treatment gained national attention and many supporters, including Charles Darwin. It resulted in legislation in 1877 to ensure women could study at university.

The degrees were collected on their behalf by a group of current students at Edinburgh Medical School on Saturday (July 6th), including third-year medical student Simran Paya, who collected an honorary degree on behalf of Sophia Jex-Blake.

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She said, “We are honoured to accept these degrees on behalf of our predecessors, who are an inspiration to us all.”

Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Edinburgh, added, “We are delighted to confer the degrees rightfully owed to this incredible group of women. The segregation and discrimination that the Edinburgh Seven faced might belong to history, but barriers still exist that deter too many talented young people from succeeding at university.

“We must learn from these women and strive to widen access for all who have the potential to succeed.”

The University also revealed that it would like to hear from any relatives of the trailblazing group.

It’s amazing to see the efforts of these pioneering women recognised at last, proving that no good deed really does goes unnoticed.