Elsie Inglis was born in India in 1864. When her father retired from his job in 1878 the Inglis family returned to Scotland and settled in Edinburgh.
Inglis studied medicine at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women. When the founder of the school, Sophia Jex-Blake, dismissed two students for what Inglis considered to be a trivial offence, she obtained funds from her father and some of his wealthy friends, and established her own medical college in Edinburgh. As well as studying medicine at the Edinburgh Medical College, Elsie was also trained at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
After qualifying as a doctor, Inglis was appointed to a teaching post at the New Hospital for Women by its founder, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She eventually returned to Scotland where she established in Edinburgh a maternity hospital that was staffed entirely by women. A supporter of universal suffrage, Inglis joined the NUWSS and in 1906 and played an important role in setting up the Scottish Women's Suffrage Federation.