Scharlieb, Mary Ann (1845–1930)

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Scharlieb, Mary Ann (1845–1930)

English physician who was one of the first female judges in England. Name variations: Dame Mary Ann Dacomb Scharlieb. Born Mary Ann Dacomb Bird in 1845; died in 1930; entered Medical School of Madras in India, 1877; London University, M.D., 1888; married W.M. Scharlieb (a lawyer), in 1865.

Dame Mary Ann Scharlieb overcame Victorian prejudice against women in the medical profession and became a noted gynecological surgeon. Scharlieb spent part of her life in India, and was first motivated to seek a medical education from witnessing the dangers that Indian women experienced in childbirth. Dividing her activities between England and India, she amassed a record of accomplishment over a career that lasted a lifetime.

Born Mary Ann Bird in 1845, she married lawyer W.M. Scharlieb before she had reached the age of 20. Scharlieb accompanied her husband to India in 1866. Eleven years later, she qualified for entrance to the Medical School of Madras along with three other women, and studied there for three years, even though the school's superintendent had written disparagingly of the prospect of giving women a medical education. Returning to London, she earned a degree from the Royal Free Hospital in 1882 and was granted an M.D. degree from London University in 1888.

Scharlieb is said to have been a skilled surgeon, but she believed that female doctors should restrict themselves to the fields of midwifery, gynecology, and pediatrics. With the aid of pioneering physician Elizabeth Garrett Anderson , she established a private practice, and in 1892 obtained the post of chief surgeon at the New Hospital for Women. She served there until 1903. Scharlieb also devoted her professional energies to the medical life of her part-time home of India, for whose cultural traditions she expressed great respect. In the middle 1880s, she played an important role in establishing the Royal Victoria Hospital for Caste and Gosha Women, and worked to form a Women's Medical Service for India during World War I.

Later in life, Scharlieb was richly honored. In 1920, she became one of the first English women named to a judgeship, and in 1926 she received the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire—the female equivalent of knighthood. She died in 1930.

suggested reading:

Arnold, David. Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993.

Blake, Catriona. The Charge of the Parasols: Women's Entry into the Medical Profession. London: Women's Press, 1990.

Bonner, Thomas Neville. To the Ends of the Earth: Women's Search for Education in Medicine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

James M. Manheim , freelance writer and editor, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Scharlieb, Mary Ann (1845–1930)

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