RCSI renames room to honour first female licentiate of RCSI, Dr Mary Emily Dowson

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Unveiling of Dr Mary Emily Dowson Room

RCSI has renamed a room in honour of Dr Mary Emily Dowson, the first female licentiate of RCSI, in recognition of her extraordinary achievements as the first female medical graduate in Ireland and Britain. Formerly the VC Room, the Dr Mary Emily Dowson room is located in RCSI’s historic St Stephen’s Green building.

Commenting on the announcement, Prof. Cathal Kelly, RCSI CEO, said: “As the first woman admitted as a surgeon at RCSI, the room naming is a fitting tribute to Dr Mary Emily Dowson’s legacy as a pioneer, serving to remind us of the impact she had at a time when women experienced significant prejudices and obstructions in their professional careers.”

In line with an institutional commitment to profile pioneering women in healthcare and to enhance female representation across the campus, RCSI invited staff to nominate a female role model, past or present, whose achievements should be recognised by the College through the naming of a room. Mary Doherty, RCSI Archivist, nominated Dr Mary Emily Dowson.

Dowson was born Mary Emily Tee on 30 June 1848, in Bradford, Yorkshire, the daughter of a wool merchant. She trained at the London School of Medicine for Women. In 1884 Dowson travelled to Dublin to sit – and pass – the Licentiate examinations of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, thereby taking her place in the Medical Register. In 1885, RCSI took the unprecedented step of allowing women to sit their licentiateship examinations, and a year later, in June 1886, Dowson returned to Dublin for this purpose.

At the time, the British Medical Journal noted: “This lady has the honour of being the first woman admitted as a surgeon on the roll of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.” In fact, Dowson has the distinction of being the first qualified female surgeon in Britain or Ireland and this achievement was recorded in the Medical Press: “We are glad to welcome Mrs Dowson within the “pale” which has, heretofore, been barred against her sex. We are also, we believe, justified in congratulating the College upon having shown itself superior to the prejudices which might have been expected to influence the acts of an institution of its years. In this, as in other of its proceedings of the last few years, the College has shown that it will not be precluded by an obstructive medical conservatism from pursuing that progress which accords with the spirit of the age…”

Dowson practiced chiefly in London, at the London School of Medicine and the New Hospital for Women. She retired in 1912. From the turn of the century, however, she had established herself as a prolific author, generally on religious themes, often under the pseudonym ‘W. Scott Palmer’. Dowson died in Hartfield, Sussex, on 2 September 1941, aged 93.

Dr Mary Emily Dowson (left) with her mother Mrs Tee (seated, centre) and two daughters Maud Hamilton and Elinor Mary (right).

Pictured: Dr Mary Emily Dowson (left) with her mother Mrs Tee (seated, centre) and two daughters Maud Hamilton and Elinor Mary (right).

The RCSI Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2018 -2022 underpins RCSI’s commitment to embed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) across everything we do. This ensures that everyone can work and learn in an environment which is defined by dignity and respect, and that everyone in RCSI is treated fairly regardless of age, civil status, disability, family status, gender, membership of the Traveller community, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status

RCSI achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award in October 2018.

The RCSI Women on Walls campaign was launched in March 2019.

Recent RCSI EDI initiatives include the launch of the RCSI Staff Pride Network, the RCSI Parents and Carers’ Staff Network and the Appreciating Culture Lecture Series.