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Elsie Inglis
Chapter VII - The Hospice

During her medical career Dr. Inglis never lost sight of one aim, equal opportunity for the woman with the man in all branches of education and practical training and responsibility. She recognized that young women doctors in Edinburgh suffered under a serious disadvantage in being ineligible for the post of resident medical officer in the Royal Infirmary and the chief maternity hospital. "But," writes a friend, "it was characteristic of her and her inherent inability to visualize obstacles except as incentive to greater effort that she set herself to remedy this disadvantage instead of accepting it as an insurmountable difficulty. Women doctors must found a maternity hospital of their own. That was her first decision. A committee was formed, and the public responded generously to an appeal for funds." Through the kindness of Dr. Hugh Barbour, a house in George Square was put at the committee's disposal. But Dr. Inglis felt that it must be near the homes of the poor women who needed its shelter, and after four years a site was chosen in the historic High Street. Three stories in a huge "tenement," reached by a narrow winding stair, were adapted, and The Hospice opened its doors.

It was opened in 1901 as a hospital for women, with a dispensary and out-patient department, admitting cases of accident and general illness as well as maternity patients. After nine years, it was decided to draft the general cases from the district to the Edinburgh Hospital for Women and Children, and The Hospice devoted all its beds to maternity cases.


As soon as the admission book showed a steady intake of patients, Dr. Inglis applied for and secured recognition as a lecturer for the Central Midwifery Board, in order to be in a position to admit resident pupils (nurses and students) to The Hospice for practical instruction in midwifery. She at the same time applied to the University of Edinburgh for recognition as an extramural lecturer on gynæcology. Recognition was granted, and for some years she lectured, using The Hospice or the Edinburgh Hospital for Women and Children at Bruntsfield Place for her practical instruction.

A woman doctor writes: "In thus starting a maternity hospital in the heart of this poor district she showed the understanding born of her long experience in the High Street and her great sympathy for all women in their hour of need. Single-handed she developed a maternity indoor and district service, training her nurses herself in anticipation of the extension of the Midwives Act to Scotland. Never too tired to turn out at night as well as by day, cheerfully taking on the necessary lecturing, she always worked to lay such a foundation that a properly equipped maternity hospital would be the natural outcome."

Though hampered by lack of money and suitable assistance, she was never daunted, and in a characteristic way insisted that all necessary medical requirements should be met, whatever the expense. She worked at The Hospice with devotion. Though cherishing always her aim of an institution which, while serving the poor, should provide a training for women doctors, she threw herself heart and soul into the work because she loved it for its own sake, and she loved her poor patients.

In 1913 Dr. Inglis went to America, and her letters were full of her plans for further development on her return. At Muskegon, Michigan, she found a small memorial hospital, of which she wrote enthusiastically as the exact thing she wanted for midwifery in Edinburgh.

On returning from America, for a time she was far from well, and one of her colleagues, in September, 1913, urged her to forgo her hard work at The Hospice, begging her to take things more easily.

Her reply, in a moment of curious concentration and earnestness, was characteristic: "Give me one more year; I know there is a future there, and someone will be found to take it on." A year later, when it seemed inevitable that it must come to an end with her departure for Serbia, those interested in The Hospice passed through deep waters in saving it, but the unanswerable argument against closing its doors was always that big circle of patients, often pleading her name, flocking up its stair, certain of help.

"Three things foreseen by Dr. Inglis have happened since her departure:

"1. The extension of the Midwives Act to Scotland, establishing recognized training centres for midwifery nursing.

"2. The extension of Notification of Births Act, making State co-operation in maternity service possible.

"3. The admission of women medical students to the University, making an opportunity for midwifery training in Edinburgh of immediate and paramount importance.

"The relation of The Hospice to these three events is as follows:

"1. It is now fourth on the list of recognized training centres in Scotland, following the three large maternity hospitals.

"2. It is incorporated in the Maternity and Child Welfare scheme of Edinburgh, which assists in out-patient work, though not in the provision of beds.

"3. It has full scope under the Ordinances of the Scottish Universities to train women medical students in Clinical Midwifery if it had a sufficient number of beds.

"The Hospice has the distinction of being the only maternity training centre run by women in Scotland. From this point of view it is of great value to women students, affording them opportunities of study denied to them in other maternity hospitals.

"To those of her friends who knew her Edinburgh life intimately, Elsie Inglis's love of The Hospice was the love of a mother for her child. She was never too tired or too busy to respond to any demand its patients made upon her time and energy, always ready to go anywhere in crowded close, or remote tenement, if it was to see a mother who had once been an in-patient there or a baby born within its walls. True, Dr. Inglis saw The Hospice with romantic eyes, with that vision of future perfection which is the seal of pure romance in motherhood. Because of this she cheerfully accepted those cramped and inconvenient flats, reached by the narrow common stair which vanishes past The Hospice door in a corkscrew flight to regions under the roof. Inconvenience and straitened quarters were as nothing, for was not her Nursing Home exactly where she wished it, with the ebb and flow of the High Street at its feet? Dr. Inglis always rejoiced greatly in the High Street, in the charm of the precincts of St. Giles, that ineffable Heart of Midlothian, serenely catholic, brooding upon the motley life that has surged for centuries about its doors. Here, where she loved to be, The Hospice is finding a new home, an adequate building, modern equipment, and endowed beds, and it will stand a living memorial, communicating to all who pass in and out of its doors, to women in need, to women strong to help, the inspiration of Dr. Elsie Inglis's ideal of service."


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