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Anderson, Louisa Garrettfree

  • Jennian Geddes

Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873–1943)

by Francis Dodd

© reserved / artist's estate / Royal Free Hospital

Anderson, Louisa Garrett (1873–1943), surgeon and suffragette, was born at the house of her paternal uncle, 9 Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead, London, on 28 July 1873, the eldest of the three children and the only surviving daughter of James George Skelton Anderson (1838–1907), shipowner, and his wife, the pioneering physician Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, née Garrett (1836–1917). Louisa spent her childhood at family homes at 4 Upper Berkeley Street, London, and West Hill, Aldeburgh, her parents being as involved with their children as their respective jobs permitted. She was educated privately, but at the age of fifteen went to St Leonard's School at St Andrews, in Scotland. Her letters home reveal that she had decided to do medicine by her second term, but was unimpressed by the science teaching. After leaving there in 1891, she went briefly to Paris to learn French before attending Bedford College, London, to prepare for entry to medical school. In the autumn of 1892 she entered the London School of Medicine for Women (LSMW), of which her mother was by then dean.

A bright student, Anderson was awarded a number of LSMW prizes before qualifying MB in 1897 and BS in 1898. She did postgraduate jobs at Plaistow Maternity Charity and the Camberwell Royal Infirmary before submitting her MD and becoming house surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in 1900. At the end of 1901 she went for six months to North America, to attend Dr William Osler's clinics in Baltimore and follow the Chicago surgeon Dr Nicholas Senn. On her return in 1902 she was appointed clinical assistant at her mother's New Hospital for Women, in London, where she remained on the staff until 1921.

Anderson's active participation in the suffrage movement began after her return from America. By 1903 she was a subscriber to and prominent in organizations affiliated to her aunt Millicent Fawcett's National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). However, she became increasingly impatient with the lack of progress towards women's franchise, and in 1907 joined Emmeline Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), of which she remained a generous supporter until 1914. In 1908 she persuaded her mother to join the WSPU—an important ‘catch’ for the militant organization—and in 1909 hosted the inaugural meeting of the Women's Tax Resistance League. As an active committee member of the Kensington branch of the WSPU Anderson took part in the great suffrage processions of May and July 1910 and was briefly arrested in November that year, in the fracas surrounding the visit of a women's delegation to Downing Street.

Anderson was much in demand as a speaker at WSPU meetings in and around London, and it was during the course of her suffrage work that she met Dr Flora Murray, with whom she was to form a friendship and working relationship that was to last until Murray's death. Murray was a prominent campaigner against the practice of forcible feeding, organizing a petition to the home secretary in 1909 which Anderson signed and then followed with two letters to the British Medical Journal, one of the relatively few doctors to protest individually.

Anderson became convinced that militant action was the only way of making progress, and on 4 March 1912 took the decision to join a group of suffragettes descending on the West End to break windows, and herself threw a stone through the window of 47 Rutland Gate, in Knightsbridge. She was arrested and the following day at Westminster magistrates' court pleaded guilty to wilful damage, for which she was sentenced to six weeks' hard labour in Holloway. Letters smuggled out to her mother (who had by this time resigned her membership of the WSPU) describe daily prison life for the suffragettes. One fellow inmate recorded in her diary that Anderson participated enthusiastically in impromptu sports events organized by prisoners, and that her unexpectedly early release on 4 April—largely engineered by her brother Alan Garrett Anderson—left her fellow inmates feeling bereft.

In February 1912, a month before she went to prison, Anderson had founded a small hospital with Flora Murray, the Women's Hospital for Children, at 688 Harrow Road, London. The hospital had only seven in-patient beds, but attracted large numbers to its outpatient clinics: over 5000 children were treated in the first eighteen months. After her release from Holloway, Anderson went back to her work there and at the New Hospital for Women, where she was now assistant surgeon. Her participation in the suffrage movement became less high-profile, but when war broke out in 1914 she realized that it could bring new opportunities for women. So with Flora Murray she founded and equipped a women's hospital unit, the Women's Hospital Corps (WHC), to run a hospital in Paris. The French Red Cross assigned them the Hôtel Claridge on the Champs-Élysées, where they rapidly set up 100 beds, and in a matter of days found themselves swamped with wounded men, many requiring urgent surgery. As chief surgeon, Anderson had had a reasonable amount of surgical experience both in London and during her time in Chicago, but most of the medical staff had not worked since qualifying. Gradually the unit began to acquire a name for professionalism and efficiency. So rapidly did their reputation spread that a few weeks later, when Anderson and Murray offered to run another hospital on the Channel coast, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) accepted with alacrity, offering to fund it for them. Anderson moved with some of the staff to run the new hospital, at Wimereux, while Murray and the rest remained at ‘Claridges’.

The Wimereux hospital opened in early November 1914, and was immediately full of casualties; but fewer patients were going to Paris hospitals, and eventually dwindling fuel supplies forced the closure of the cavernous Hôtel Claridge. Anderson and Murray then discovered that large numbers of new hospital beds were being planned in England, and suggested they might be of more use running a unit there. They were invited to meet Sir Alfred Keogh, director-general of Army Medical Services, who offered them the opportunity to take charge of a regular military hospital in London. His acknowledgement that they had shown themselves competent to do so was taken as a significant victory by the two veteran campaigners, who realized that by accepting his offer they would be able to demonstrate very publicly that women could do their patriotic duty as competently as men. They returned to London in early January 1915. Their hospital was to be in Covent Garden, in the premises of a recently vacated workhouse. In May 1915, after hectic preparations which included supervision of renovations to the building, recruitment of like-minded staff, and training in army procedures, the WHC opened the Endell Street Military Hospital, the only British army hospital ever to have been founded and run by women. Murray was the doctor in charge, Anderson chief surgeon.

Though women did not have commissioned rank, Murray was graded for pay as a lieutenant-colonel, Anderson as a major, and the two were referred to by staff and patients as the 'COs' (commanding officers). The work was punishing. Anderson and Murray led by example, keeping exhaustingly long hours—a letter home from a young doctor describes them 'working like slaves' (Scantlebury-Brown, letter-diaries, 10 May 1917)—and the fact that many in the RAMC expected the women to fail was a source of additional pressure. But recognizing that some of the younger doctors were also vulnerable to stress, the two women frequently offered the use of Paul End, the house they owned together in Penn, Buckinghamshire, to members of staff to give them a much-needed break from hospital routine. One woman who went there for a weekend with a colleague found an idyllically situated and comfortable cottage, the contents puzzlingly at odds with the rather austere personae of her COs at Endell Street.

The hospital had 573 beds, 500 of them surgical, and most of the operations were performed by Anderson—about 7000 procedures by the time the hospital finally closed. There is evidence that she was a careful surgeon, with a conservative approach to the treatment of wounds, and also a methodical clinician: with her brilliant pathologist, Helen Chambers, she managed also to carry out some of the first clinical research by a British woman doctor, publishing the results in The Lancet.

In a letter to her mother from Paris, Anderson had described military medicine as 'suffrage work—or women's work—in another form' (papers of Louisa Garrett Anderson, 7LGA/2/1/09), and there is no doubt that the feminist agenda was fundamental to Endell Street. No opportunity was lost to proselytize to all and sundry; towards the end of the war Keogh himself wrote to Anderson: 'I think your success has probably done more for the cause of women than anything else I know of' (Murray, 166). The passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 was celebrated enthusiastically at Endell Street.

Anderson and Murray were created CBE in 1917 for their work. Anderson continued at Endell Street during its final months in 1919, as well as at the Harrow Road Hospital, now renamed the Roll of Honour Hospital, which was eventually forced to close in 1921. She sold her London house, 60 Bedford Gardens, and retired with Murray to Paul End, where they lived together until Murray's death in 1923. In 1928 Anderson went to Australia for a visit and after her return became active locally as a magistrate. In 1939, after hearing that a disliked cousin was planning to write a biography of her mother, she produced her own version from a voluminous archive of family letters, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1939), after which she destroyed all her parents' most intimate correspondence.

At the start of the Second World War Anderson went to London as a volunteer at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, as the New Hospital had been renamed, helping there in the aftermath of air raids, but was forced to give up this work in 1943 when she was diagnosed as having a retroperitoneal sarcoma. After a palliative operation by the young Diana Beck she moved to a nursing home at Brighton, and died there on 15 November 1943. She was cremated, but is commemorated on Flora Murray's grave at Holy Trinity, Penn.


  • F. Murray, Women as army surgeons (1920)
  • J. F. Geddes, ‘Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873–1943), surgeon and suffragette’, Journal of Medical Biography, 16 (2008)
  • J. F. Geddes, ‘Deeds and words in the suffrage military hospital in Endell Street’, Medical History, 51 (2007)
  • C. Anderson, unpublished memoirs, priv. coll. [Anderson family]
  • Manchester Guardian (17 Nov 1943)
  • The Lancet (27 Nov 1943)
  • Medical Women's Federation Quarterly Review (Oct 1943)
  • L. G. Anderson, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1939)
  • papers of Louisa Garrett Anderson, Women's Library, London, 7LGA
  • E. G. Anderson, letters and papers, Suffolk RO, Ipswich, HA436
  • Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital records, New Hospital for Women annual reports and managing committee minutes, LMA, H13/EGA
  • letter-diaries from England, University of Melbourne, Baillieu Library, Vera Scantlebury-Brown Collection, 84/82
  • E. Sharp, letters, MSS.Eng.lett.d.277; diary, MSS.Eng.misc.e.635, vol. 3, Bodl. Oxf.
  • K. Gliddon, prison diary, Women's Library, London, 7KGG/1
  • The Times (16 Nov 1943)
  • LondG (24 Aug 1917), 8795
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.


  • Women's Library, London, papers, 7LGA
  • Suffolk RO, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson letters and papers, corresp. with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, HA436


  • photographs, 1880–1919, Women's Library, London
  • F. Dodd, charcoal sketch, 1921, UCL Hospitals, London
  • F. Dodd, oil, 1921 (An Operation at the Military Hospital, Endell Street: Dr L. Garrett, Dr Flora Murray, Dr W. Buckley), IWM
  • F. Dodd, oil, 1922, UCL Medical School, London
  • Elliott & Fry, bromide print, 1943, NPG
  • F. Dodd, oils, Royal Free Hospital, London [see illus.]
  • Elliott & Fry, half-plate glass negative (copied 1943), NPG

Wealth at Death

£113,540 14s. 4d.: probate, 29 March 1944, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich
London Gazette
Bodleian Library, Oxford
London Metropolitan Archives