This discovery proves that Jex-Blake secretly worked as a paid journalist during The Scottish and author of several of their leading anonymous articles on his campaign. She deliberately hid this information until the very end of her life, even as she quoted and praised her own Scottish papers extensively in her other writings and encouraged readers to believe The Scottish the popular editor, Alexander Russel, and his male staff were the authors of these articles.
In fact, she hid her authorship of the papers so well that even 150 years later, they are still cited by scholars without being attributed to her.
When I discovered Jex-Blake’s secret, I was nearing the end of a three-month stay in Edinburgh, where I was conducting research for my doctoral thesis on Jex-Blake’s contributions to The Scottish during the so-called “Battle of Edinburgh”.
I had already confirmed my hunch that Jex-Blake had a more direct contribution to the journal’s content than previously known. But it never occurred to me The Scottish Influential feature articles, which generated huge public support for female students, could have been written by her.
Edinburgh Seven’s extraordinary achievements as the first female students in the UK are m…
One day, while searching the archives for evidence that Jex-Blake had written anonymous letters to the editor, I found an original Scottish Contributors’ Journal identifying the names of authors who had written prominent articles and reviews of books between 1872 and 1881. Out of curiosity, I decided to consult the feature articles on the campaign in order to find out who, besides The Scottish had written them. When I saw Jex-Blake’s name listed as the author of these pieces, I was so shocked that I almost slipped off my chair.
This discovery allowed me to revisit the story of Jex-Blake through a new lens. Perhaps most interestingly, I realized that she used an anonymous self-citation strategy to promote her articles in other texts, including Medical Women: A Thesis and a History (1886). Throughout Medical Women, she keeps her paternity secret while praising, quoting, and referencing her anonymous posts. “Once more to quote our great champion the Scotsman,” she wrote in an introduction to a quote from a feature article we now know she authored herself.
Almost every modern account of the campaign circulates the idea that Russel supported Jex-Blake in The Scottish writing or asking journalists to write feature stories in support of the campaign.
Even the 1981 BBC miniseries The Walls of Jericho centers Russel’s support for Jex-Blake through its newspaper columns. Within the scientific community, the same thing has happened. What we know now is that the narratives of these 20th and 21st century filmmakers and scholars continue to be shaped and driven by the intentional strategies of Jex-Blake.
But why would Jex-Blake, an outspoken activist and well-known author, hide her role as a journalist from the public? The answer is complex, but it’s important to note that her signature publications, while impactful, were also limited by readers’ prejudices and preconceived prejudices about women in general – and about her in particular.
An unconventional woman by Victorian standards of feminine propriety, Jex-Blake was a controversial figure in her time. Many of her contemporaries blamed her, rather than the physicians who opposed her, for the controversy in Edinburgh.
In feature articles, Jex-Blake was freed from these judgments and able to speak as “The Scottishin what was then an implicitly male voice. In fact, many readers thought the main articles were written by Russel himself.
Speaking to the cultural authority of The Scotsman, she aimed to cultivate support for the Edinburgh campaign and unite the paper’s diverse readership in support of female doctors. She did this in part by critiquing and exposing the medical school’s increasingly egregious tactics while aiming to generate support for female students.
As Jex-Blake put it in an 1872 article, female students and their allies “fought the fight of darkness against light, of monopoly against free trade, of compulsory ignorance against education.” Meanwhile, “reckless” doctors and their supporters sought to protect the medical market from what she sarcastically called “the desecration of female invasion.”
Evidence suggests that the main reason Jex-Blake continued to keep this secret throughout his life and quote The Scottish in Medical Women more than a decade after the campaign ended, it was because she believed it would prevent enemies from spreading a false version of events to future generations.
She had encountered such efforts frequently and believed they would continue after her death. The Scottish the authority would then protect her campaign from misrepresentation and erasure, ensuring that her efforts would have a lasting impact on the female doctor movement and on women’s chances of success in the medical field.
This discovery offers us a rare opportunity to reassess Jex-Blake’s strategies and impact.
The fact that his biographer and partner, Margaret Todd, burned all of Jex-Blake’s papers shortly after his death has limited historians’ understanding of his contributions and strategies. With this new information, we can paint a more complex portrait of a fascinating historical figure who strategically used a Victorian diary to help pave the way for female doctors.
– Sarah J. Ghasedi is a lecturer at the University of Washington. Her long article on the anonymous writings of Sophia Jex-Blake is due to appear in the Victorian Periodicals Review.