Elsie Inglis lived from 16 August 1864 to 26 November 1917. She made her name as a pioneering surgeon and as a suffragette, and did much to improve medical care for women.
Elsie Maude Inglis was born in India, where her father was employed in the Indian Civil Service. He retired in 1878 and the family, including 14 year old Elsie, returned to their former home in Edinburgh. Inglis went on to study medicine at the (then) revolutionary Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women under Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, after three years going on to study under Sir William McEwen at the University of Glasgow. Here she first developed her interest in surgery.
After she qualified as a doctor in 1892, Inglis was appointed to a post at what would later become the the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital for Women in London, but which at the time was just an ordinary general hospital. Unhappy with the conditions, and in particular about the standards of care for female patients, Inglis decided that the way forward was to have hospitals run by women.
In 1894 she returned to Edinburgh where she established a medical practice with a fellow female physician. In 1904 she set up a small maternity hospital for Edinburgh's poor in the city's High Street, staffed entirely by women. This later became the Elsie Maude Inglis Memorial Hospital.
Inglis had for some time been a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Women's Suffragette Federation.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Inglis suggested the creation of medical units staffed by women which could provide aid to British forces on the Western Front. Despite opposition from the British War Office and rejection by both the Red Cross and the Royal Army Medical Corps, Inglis founded the Scottish Women's Hospitals Committee. The French Government was less negative, and by December 1914, Inglis's first medical unit staffed wholly be women was setting up the 200 bed Abbaye de Royaumont hospital.
In early 1915 Inglis accompanied a women's medical unit to Serbia. She was taken captive by Austrian forces, but later released after the intervention of the United States Government, at that point still a neutral power. After being returned to Britain in 1916, Inglis immediately began raising funds for a hospital in Russia. She went to Russia later in 1916, and began her medical work in support of Serbian troops there, often having to flee advancing German forces. Inglis continued to work in Russia during 1917, but was becoming increasingly ill herself.
Her poor health meant she was forced to return to Britain, but she died of cancer on 26 November 1917 a day after her ship arrived in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Her body was taken to Edinburgh, where she lay in state in St Giles Cathedral.
In all, the Scottish Women's Hospitals Committee sent over 1000 women doctors, nurses, orderlies and drivers to war zones across Europe. They oversaw the creation of four Scottish Women's Hospitals, which had much lower levels of death from disease than the more traditional military hospitals then in operation. And they also sent fourteen medical units to serve in areas as diverse as France, Serbia, Corsica, Salonika, Romania, Russia and Malta.