By Tom Potter
A ground swell of support is being shown to honour the life, work and memory of an inspirational Suffolk woman.
Last week, The EADT called for a fresh and fitting memorial to Aldeburgh’s first female mayor and Britain’s first woman doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, after seeing the sadly vanishing inscription on her headstone, in the town’s St Peter and St Paul churchyard. As the 100-year anniversary of her death approaches, our appeal to commemorate the medical trailblazer and social reformer is beginning to gather pace. Although epitaphs surely fade with time, there is clear agreement in Aldeburgh that Garrett Anderson’s legacy is something to proclaim with pride.
Business leaders are set to discuss the matter later this week, while heritage groups and even direct descendants have also shared their support. Last week, EADT editor Terry Hunt was joined by current mayor Sara Fox, and Revd Canon Nigel Hartley, vicar for Aldeburgh, in recognising the incredible contribution made by Garrett Anderson, who is still regarded as a medical pioneer and upholder of women’s rights.
John Richardson, who lives in Aldeburgh, where he too was once mayor, is the great-great-great nephew of Garrett Anderson’s father, Newson. Mr Richardson approved of restoring the memory of his ancestor. He said: “It’s a jolly good idea, and something the family have been working on for some time. It would certainly get family support, particularly with the 100 anniversary coming up. Not only is Elizabeth buried there, but so is her sister, and her father.”
Garrett Anderson was a member of Suffolk’s famous engineering family, and became the first Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain. She also co-founded the first hospital staffed by women, was the first female member of the British Medical Association, and become England’s first female mayor.
Aldeburgh and Leiston county councillor Richard Smith also echoed The EADT’s message and paid tribute to a pioneering life and career. He said: “I am happy to lend my support. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a seminal character. She recorded a whole series of firsts as a woman. She was Aldeburgh’s first female mayor so I would support a permanent memorial to her.”
Tony Bone, chairman of Aldeburgh and District Local History Society, which is planning a lecture on the subject of Garrett Anderson later this year, said: “We think it would be a good idea and something we would support. It would be the right and sensible thing to do. Our latest programme asks why there isn’t a statue or permanent memorial in the town.”
Anna Mercer, of Leiston Long Shop Museum, the former Garrett engineering works site, said: “We are obviously keen that the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson name lives on, and that her achievements are recognised locally and nationally. Something to commemorate her local connections and huge contribution to women’s education and medicine would I’m sure be welcomed by the museum.”
Naomi Tarry, whose Best of Suffolk holiday cottage agency lets a converted stable block once owned by the family, agreed to raise the matter as chairman of the Aldeburgh Business Association.
She said: “I will certainly let our members know and see what they have to say. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman doctor and our first female mayor. She was an amazing woman and quite a trailblazer of her time.”
East Anglian Daily Times Online. Published 3 July 2013.