100 years ago today: How we reported funeral of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
PUBLISHED: 00:02 21 December 2017
Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was buried in Aldeburgh on December 21, 1917. She was the first woman in Britain to qualify as a doctor, the first female dean of a medical school, the first female member of a school board and the first woman to be elected an English mayor.
The Evening Star’s report said:
The remains of the late Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson were laid to rest in the family vault in the churchyard of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Aldeburgh, on Friday afternoon.
By the special desire of the deceased lady’s family the obsequies were carried out as simply as possible, the only public demonstration being the attendance of the Mayor and Corporation of the borough in their official capacity – a tribute that had to be recognised from the fact that the deceased lady filled the civic chair for two years, and was distinguished in being elected first lady mayor in England.
The flag of St George floated at half mast from the church tower, and the business establishments and private residences of the inhabitants, by whom the deceased lady was held in great esteem, were shaded during the funeral service.
The cortège (the coffin, covered with a white pall, being borne on a wheeled shillibeer) was formed at Alde House, the residence of the deceased, and was composed of the immediate family mourners, who followed the body on foot, and proceeded to the church. [A shillibeer is a horse-drawn hearse.]
Meanwhile, the congregation assembled at the church, where the choir stalls and the pulpit had been decorated with evergreens and everlasting flowers, and a choice of white chrysanthemums were arranged on the communion table. The organist rendered very impressively the opening voluntary, “Then shall the righteous shine forth” and “But the Lord is mindful of his own.”
The body was received at the entrance to the church by the Reverend Canon SW Goldsmith, vicar, who conducted the service throughout, and while the opening sentences were recited the organist played “Blest are they departed,” and which was followed by the hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”
The lesson was read from “The Book of Wisdom” (iii) 1 to 10. After the hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” the vicar delivered a proof of address. Taking his text from Proverbs 31: “Give her fruits of her own hands and let her own work praise her in the gates,” the Rev gentleman said that these concluding words of the wise king in his observations regarding a virtuous woman drew for us a beautiful portrait of ideal womanhood in domestic and social relationship.
With sorrowing affection and reverent respect they were present that afternoon to join in the last solemn rites for one who would shrink from any comparison being drawn between herself and the subject of the wise king’s observations.
He need hardly say, knowing her so well, how difficult his task was in speaking of one whose character and life’s work could never be forgotten, and in choosing words which struck the mark between undue and exaggerated eulogy on the one hand and on the other justified congratulation of the sterling qualities with which she was endowed by Almighty God, yet they knew that death had put a period to the life of an English lady whose career had been truly remarkable.
Was not she possessed of those particular traits which went to strong, noble characters – bright and generous, good-natured and humorous, kindly disposed and sympathetic, and indefatigable worker: all these, together with the still less common capacity for leadership, combined together to ensure that success in life which was given to comparatively few to obtain.
If ever the story of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s life came to be written, he took it that which would stand out amongst all else was the possession of that wonderful spirit of courage, perseverance, and determination to overcome all the obstacles and difficulties which she knew lay between her and the accomplishment of what she felt she was called upon to do.
The Rev gentleman went on to picture the vision which Elizabeth Garrett Anderson had of a wider realm of activity for womanhood, and more especially the entrance of women into that humanity which the practice of medicine and surgery supplied.
He glanced at the difficulties which she surmounted – in accomplishing the realisation of the vision, and in carrying out various spheres of work for the benefit of humanity and the furtherance of the course and status of women.
Of her it might truly be said: “Her works do follow her” and “her works praise her in the gates.”
After prayer, the body was conveyed to the vault in the churchyard, where the concluding portion of the burial service was read. The coffin, which was of polished oak, with brass furniture, bore on the plate the inscription – “Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, born June 9, 1836; died December 17, 1917.”
There were no floral tributes, by request, excepting a very beautiful wreath from the president and council of the Women’s Medical Federation.
A woman who broke several glass ceilings
Her work ‘would live for ever in the memory of mankind’
On Christmas Eve, 1917, the Evening Star reported on a memorial service for Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. It was held in the church of the Military Hospital, Endell Street (Covent Garden), London, the previous Saturday. (The day after her funeral in Aldeburgh.)
Among the many people present were Viscountess Cowdray, representing the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, the secretary of the British Medical Association, and folk from the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association.
“Special hymns were sung by the choir of the church, which consists of the staff of the Hospital.”
The Bishop of Stepney, in an address, paid a high tribute to the life and devoted work of Dr Garrett Anderson, a work which, he said, would live for ever in the memory of mankind. It was a work which combined the great charms of discovery, the skilful practice which had for its object the alleviation of pain, and the exercise of true charity.
Dr Anderson had had a most distinguished career, in which all the talents which she possessed had been put to the greatest beneficial use for the welfare of suffering humanity. Her work would leave indelible marks on the history of medical science and on the progress of the movement for recognising the services of women in the medical profession, to which at first there had been some opposition.
She had been very determined in her studies, and did not set herself to show what might be done. Her great aim had always been to show what could be done.
Her great patience and perseverance had won for her results which otherwise could not be achieved. It was marvellous to think of the swiftness with which the triumph of her efforts had been consummated.
The Bishop alluded to the fact that Dr Anderson had filled the office of the first Lady Mayor of an English borough, Aldeburgh, and emphasised the success with which her duties were carried out in that capacity.
She left an example which should impress itself on those who had the privilege of knowing her and her work, which, it was to be hoped, would be carried on in the same spirit and the same love as the deceased lady had displayed in all her undertakings.
The paper also printed a poem, written by someone calling themselves
This noble lady, who from Suffolk came.
At four score years and one has passed away;
With truth it may be said of her, “the game”
She did well play.
True courage, perseverance, pluck, and all
That leads on to success, in plenty she
Exhibited against a solid wall
Her triumph came, and she for many a year
Did spend her talents for the common weal,
Advancing day by day, devoid of fear,
And filled with zeal.
“The ranks of Tuscany,” in course of time,
“Could scarce forbear to cheer” a pluck so true;
And now the splendour of the Shore sublime
Breaks on her view.
Her native Aldeburgh doubtless weeps to-day
At losing, in this lady, its first Mayor;
While she rejoices her great part to play
’Mid scenes more fair.
First among equals
June 9, 1836: Elizabeth Garrett born in Whitechapel, London.
Father is Newson Garrett, whose brother Richard had inherited the Leiston engineering works. Newson was running his father-in-law’s pawnbroking shop.
1840: After Newson buys a coal and corn business at Snape, the family comes back to Suffolk. They live at Uplands, near Aldeburgh church.
1859: Elizabeth and friend Emily Davies (who will later found Girton College in Cambridge) go to a lecture by Elizabeth Blackwell, who had qualified as a doctor in America. She encourages Elizabeth to follow her lead, in England. Newson, initially shocked, backs her quest. English universities and medical schools don’t allow women to take their exams. Elizabeth becomes a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital and is allowed to sit in on medical students’ lectures… until some complain and she has to stop.
1865: After studying, she passes exams of the Society of Apothecaries, whose rules allow ‘persons’, not ‘men’, to practise.
1866: Launches a dispensary for poor women, charging one penny. Becomes member of first women’s suffrage committee, seeking to win the vote for females. Goes to France, to the Sorbonne, aiming to get a
Doctor of Medicine degree.
1870: Passes the University of Paris MD exams. Finally, the medical profession in her native country accepts her as a doctor.
1871: Marries James Skelton Anderson, financial adviser to the East London Hospital for Children and part of family shipping business that will later form the Orient Line.
1872: The Hospital for Women opens – 10 beds above the dispensary. It soon moves and expands.
1873: Daughter Louisa born.
1874: First woman voted into the British Medical Association. Then it passes a rule banning future female members. This holds until 1892.
1875: Daughter Margaret, born previous year, dies of TB.
1877: Women can now study medicine at London University. Elizabeth has son Alan.
1884: She becomes Dean of London School of Medicine – first female to hold such a position.
1902: Elizabeth and her husband retire to Suffolk. Home is, first, West Hill in Aldeburgh. (Later, after her mother dies, they’ll move to Alde House.)
1907: Her husband dies, following a stroke. Elizabeth later succeeds him as Mayor of Aldeburgh – England’s first female mayor