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The first woman in Britain to qualify and practise as a doctor had to change, not just her name, but her gender in order to do so. “James Barry” joined Edinburgh University in 1809 as a “literary and medical student” and qualified with a medical doctorate in 1812. She maintained her male disguise (necessary at that time to study and practise medicine) throughout her distinguished career as a medical officer and surgeon in the British army. Only on her death was her true identity revealed:
“…His professional acquirements had procured for him promotion to the staff at the Cape. About 1840 he became promoted to be medical inspector, and was transferred to Malta. He proceded from Malta to Corfu where he was quartered for many years... He there died about a month ago, and upon his death was discovered to be a woman. The motives that occasioned and the time when commenced this singular deception are both shrouded in mystery. But thus it stands as an indisputable fact, that a woman …
Debbie A Lawlor is funded by a UK Department of Health Career Scientist Award. The views expressed in this piece are hers and not necessarily the Department of Health’s.
Editor’s note: In response to this article, we have changed the style of the authors’ names in the journal to be as presented to us.