Elizabeth Blackwell, Hastings, and poetry
Although Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor registered to practice in Britain in 1859 (having qualified in the States) she is relatively unknown. Like Frances Hoggan, the first Welsh woman to so qualify, she was a committed anti-vivisectionist.
The plaque on her former house in Exmouth Place, Hastings has been hidden for some months by scaffolding: though scant attention seems to have been paid to its condition during other restoration work.
The quote is from ‘ Epilogue’ by Robert Browning. Note the insertion of ‘her’ rather than his. Lines from nineteenth century poets were often adapted by feminists. Thus ‘He who would be free, himself must strike the blow!’ from Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was transformed on suffrage banners to ‘Who would be free themselves must strike the blow’. Most famously the epithet of the WSPU ‘Deeds not Words’ is taken from Shelley’s ‘Mask of Anarchy’ written after the Peterloo Massacre. It is better known for the last verse:
‘ Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many- they are few’
The article I wrote some years ago for the Women’s History Review on the way that suffrage feminists created their own histories discusses this use of poetry in more detail.