Who were the Edinburgh Seven?
Whilst British girls were welcome in schools during the 19th-century, universities did not permit women to enrol. The seven women, known as the Edinburgh Seven, campaigned to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
Taking their name from the Greek mythological story the 'Seven Against Thebes', the Edinburgh Seven or 'Septem contra Edinam' involved many women over their four-year campaign. The seven leaders were: Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell. Jex-Blake instigated the campaign after applying to study medicine in March 1869. Whilst the Medical Faculty was in favour of welcoming Jex-Blake, the University Court rejected the application stating they could not change the rules “in the interest of one lady”.
Determined to study at the university, Jex-Blake published letters in national newspapers asking women to join her. Jex-Blake resubmitted her application along with six other women in the hopes that this time the university would grant her entry. The university accepted the application so long as the women could pass the matriculation exam.
The exam involved English, Latin, mathematics and two subjects of the candidates' choice. On 19th October 1869, 152 students took the exam, Jex-Blake and her friends being the only women. They all passed with four women earning a place in the top seven. On 2nd November 1869, the University of Edinburgh opened its doors to women for the first time.