The aim of this project has been to highlight both the well-known and the lesser-known fellows, presidents and figures of the College’s past. There are currently 45 entries, including three women, of important figures in Edinburgh’s medical history. Not only are these figures important to the history of the College and Edinburgh, but for medicine as a discipline. These men and women were pioneers of their field, impacting the development of medical practice with effects that are felt today.

This resource will hopefully provide a point of reference for knowledge on specific fellows, and in exploring these biographies; the viewer will potentially come across someone they had never heard of before. From giants like William Cullen and the Monro dynasty to lesser known, but equally as influential, figures such as John Hope, this resource explores past fellows, presidents, founders and licentiates of the College.

 

In conducting the research for this project, it quickly became apparent of the dearth of female figures recorded in Edinburgh’s visible medical history. The professionalization of medicine pushed female

practitioners to the periphery of healing. It took centuries from the founding of the College in 1681 to elect the College’s first female fellow, Isabella Pringle, in 1929. The two other women included in this biography section are Elsie Inglis and Beatrice Russell, both of whom were pioneering women in an age when female practitioners were still being discriminated against in the professional field of medicine.

More visibly in the College’s history existed a group of men who were fundamental in founding the College as well as other significant medical institutions of Edinburgh; such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Royal Infirmary, the medical school of Edinburgh University, and countless others. These men were essential players in establishing medical institutions in Britain, such as the British Heart Foundation and the NHS.

The men and women included in this biography section engaged with the world, served in wars, and influenced medical developments across the globe. However, it is important to remember these men and women were people. Some of these men owned slaves, like William Wright, or were known for their tempers, like James Gregory and James Hamilton, who notoriously butted heads. In some cases, these men engaged shamelessly in nepotism, as per the Monro dynasty.

We are reminded of the humanism of these medical practitioners perhaps best through John Brown who said, ‘Let me tell you, my young doctor friends, that a cheerful face and step, and neckcloth and kindly joke, a power of exciting, a setting a-going, a good laugh, are stock in our trade not to be despised. The hearty heart does good like a medicine.’ and upon Brown's death Mark Twain remarked that ‘he was the most extensive slave-holder of his time, and the kindest, and yet he died without setting one of his bondsmen free.’

Hopefully this project proves to be a useful resource and serves as a starting point in discovering more about the important figures of the College’s past.

You can view the College's biography pages here.

Author: Audrey Moore, an intern from the University of Edinburgh's MSc Renaissance and Early Modern Studies programme.

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