Endell Street Military Hospital: A Suffragette story


On the 13th of August 1914, nine days
after war was declared, Emmeline Pankhurst announced the suspension of
the Women’s Social and Political Union’s campaign for the vote. The WSPU was
the most militant of the groups, seeking to extend the franchise in the years
before the war. It’s also the most well known. Many members were arrested and
from 1909 began the hunger strikes that would mark many of the woman’s faces and bodies for years to come. What happened to the commitment and determination of
these women when the campaign was suspended? How did they meet the
announcement of war in Europe? We’re here in Endell Street in Central
London to find out through a focus on two amazing women,
Louisa Garret Anderson and Flora Marie. They were doctors, they had been WSPU
members, they had first-hand experience of prison and its impact, and they
changed the face of hospital care for men during the First World War, without
sacrificing their ideals. I’m Sarah Haslam at the Open University and I’ve
been working on their story for some time when I came across the digital dramas film about Endell Street. Who were Louisa Garret Anderson and Flora Murray and how did they shape the story of the suffrage campaign? Doctor Louisa Garrett Anderson
was the pioneering medic Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s daughter, and was also deeply committed to the campaign for women’s suffrage. Doctor Flora Murray was honorary physician to the WSPU. Murray and Garret Anderson were close friends and they had founded a Women’s Hospital for Children in London in 1912. On the
declaration of war, they knew exactly what they wanted to do, they wanted to
open their own hospital to treat men injured at the front. They went to the
French Embassy to offer their services, as they knew the British war office
would brush them off. The French Red Cross wrote to the women on the 22nd of August 1914 in profound gratitude for their offer, which was
accepted. Having raised significant funds they left for Paris as the Women’s
Hospital Corps. On the 22nd of September, Louisa wrote to her mother from their
new hospital’s base, Claridge’s Hotel on the Champs-Élysées. In a week they had transformed the gorgeous shell of marble and gilts into a hospital of a hundred
beds, she said. And the women had already performed a number of operations on
wounded soldiers, testing and expanding their surgery skills under great
pressure. Staff at the British war office may have been prejudiced but they were
not stupid. The success in France spoke volumes, the women were asked by the Royal Army Medical Corps’ Director General, Sir
Alfred Keogh, to move back to London and open a hospital there. The War Office
would pay for the renovations for the old St Giles Union Workhouse in
Covent Garden. Near the major railway stations, it would be one of the first
new hospitals in London to receive the war wounded, and the 15 doctors would be women, the stretch of areas and orderlies would be women, the library would be run
by women. Garret Anderson would be Chief Surgeon with Flora Murray the doctor in
charge. The hospital opened in May 1915 and had more than 500 beds by 1916. The newspapers were as full of the story as the men, who were taken out of ambulances by the first women stretcher bearers. In 1918, when The Representation of the
People Act was passed, there were celebrations at Endell Street and the
bunting went up. A year later, the hospital was closed and these
exceptional, skilled women lost their jobs. Their legacy is one to value, we
hope we’ve Illustrated why and how today. Get more from the Open University. Check
out the links on screen now.

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