London hospital dubbed ‘the best in England’ run entirely by women

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If a restaurant is full every night, with turned away customers and a longer waiting list than a subway, there would be no layoffs or outrage at the suggestion of opening a second restaurant. That would indeed make sense.

For some reason the whole ‘let the market decide’ attitude was openly rejected when it came to the proposal to open South London Hospital for Women – even though another all-women’s hospital, Elizabeth Hospital Garret Anderson at Euston Road, was massively oversubscribed.

The beds were all full and potential patients had to be turned away – but the last thing, apparently, was needed.

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South London Women’s Hospital, Clapham Common. Staffed entirely by women, the hospital was expanded in the 1930s and closed in 1984.

The Times even published a letter in 1911 claiming that the project was “useless” and only existed to allow women to practice medicine when the field was rightly dominated by men.

Well, whoever decided to publish this letter actually did the hospital a favor: surgeons Eleanor Davies-Colley and Maud Mary Chadburn, who probably expected their fundraising efforts to be wiped out by the letter, received an anonymous donation and an endowment so huge that the hospital was open and running in 1916.

It was staffed entirely by women – female doctors, nurses, porters, and even all the patients over the age of seven were female. The only male employees were the gardener and the engineer.



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It was therefore known as an “Eden without Adam” and was described as “the best run hospital in England”.

The hospital was progressive from the start – it was decades before the NHS, and medical care was not free. But at South London Hospital for Women people from all walks of life were admitted on a pay-as-you-go basis, with private rooms available to hire for more affluent patients at a much higher price.

The facilities were designed with women’s comfort in mind – such as heated hair-drying rails, large bathroom doors with space for two nurses to assist patients, and white marble walls – as it was thought that they were safer and healthier than non-porous walls.



Portrait of Maud Mary Chadburn, founder and surgeon of South London Hospital.
Portrait of Maud Mary Chadburn, founder and surgeon of South London Hospital.

Infectious wards were separated from the hospital pathways and since it was a time when fresh air was considered an effective part of treatment, there were even electric lifts to take patients to the roof for “treatment”. outside”.

The women-only policy was maintained until 1984, when the hospital was declared “uneconomical” by the health authority and, despite vigorous public opposition, a 60,000-signature petition and occupation of the building nine months by protesters, the hospital was closed in 1984.

In 1994 the site was taken over by Tesco and now houses the supermarket and a block of flats called The Latitude. The facade was kept for its “architectural importance”, but everything that made it great was demolished.



Erica Buist, London stories editor

Erica is a London story writer and has a particular interest in London history – the more foreign the better. She lectures on feature writing at various UK universities, has written for the Guardian, BBC and Medium, and is the author of the book This Party’s Dead.

Check out some of her favorite pieces here:

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