The University of Edinburgh is widely regarded as one of the best universities in the world, for reasons such as career prospects and its excellence in research. When reflecting on the thousands of universities there are in the world, it is a feeling of pride when I see my University consistently ranked within the World’s Top 20. Looking at admissions statistics further fuels this satisfaction. With an offer rate of just under 40% and an acceptance rate of 11.5%, this shows that with 50,000 applicants a year, it is an institution where I am always being challenged to become better at what I enjoy doing.
The College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine is also considered one of the world’s best. A recent research assessment submitted to the Hospital-based Clinical Subjects Panel rated it at as the UK’s best for medical research. Graduates from the University of Edinburgh Medical School have used their degree to achieve a number of non-medic related pursuits, most notably to become US Senators and, in Charles Tupper’s case, the future Prime Minister of Canada. The University of Edinburgh’s Medical School possesses a host of interesting facts, which may not be seen or appreciated on the surface. A major factor that has fostered this diversity is also something that goes unnoticed: The Edinburgh Seven.
The Edinburgh Seven were a group of seven women, who were the first females to be matriculated at any British University. Whilst all seven did not manage to complete the course and graduate, it set a huge platform on which many other females could build upon in the academic world. They began their studies in 1869 and, with it, began the emphasis on women’s educational rights at university to become part of the political agenda. By 1877, this was met by legislation that allowed all women to study at university in Britain.
Sophia Jex-Blake, the first to start this movement, was initially rejected from studying at the University because the obligatory requirements could not be facilitated ‘in the interest of one lady’. However, this did not defer or prevent her interest in studying. She tried to find other females who would support her and embark on this journey too, and she was successful in forming a group of five, which later became seven. A few months after the initial rejection, a second application was successful and the women were allowed to take the matriculation exam.
Passing the exam in flying colours meant that The University of Edinburgh was the first to allow women to study in Britain. Inevitably, this decision did not pass without discontent. The Surgeon’s Hall Riot became emblematic of the shifts in equality. Whilst the women were subject to abuse and violence during the Riot, it resulted in many new supporters to their cause, including men.
The seven women were awarded a plaque in 2015 at the University as part of the Historic Scotland Commemorative Plaques Scheme. To this day, protests and debates about gender empowerment continue. However, the Edinburgh Seven helped take a huge step to increasing equality and, consequently, millions of women around the world have benefitted.