“In the early 19th century, only men were admitted to the medical schools in Britain, and discovery of the sex of the young medical student would have ruined any chance of success,” writes du Preez.

In 1806, her uncle James Barry passed away and left his fortune to the family. In turn, Bulkley assumed Barry’s name and used the money to finance three years of medical studies at the University of Edinburgh beginning in December 1809.

The new James Barry was a diligent student. Barry pursued a diverse load of coursework, ranging from anatomy and surgery, botany, and midwifery. The number of subjects Barry studied was only exceeded by one Army medical officer and matched by one other student in his cohort of over 45 doctors, wrote du Preez.

In 1812, Barry was nearly exposed on the cusp of graduating. Edinburgh authorities tried to bar Barry from taking the four-stage final exams, claiming that the student looked underage but likely suspecting more. Yet at the time it was not unusual to see 16-year-olds at medical schools, and the ban was not enforced. After completing a thesis on the femoral hernia (primarily a female condition), Barry became the first woman to graduate from a medical school in Britain…

Barry joined the British Army’s medical unit in 1813. It’s unknown how the young doctor passed the mandatory physical exams, but scholars believe Lord Buchan, a nobleman who had been a friend and supporter of her late uncle, likely played a role. In 1815, Barry was appointed as colonial medical inspector in Cape Colony, South Africa, and was granted authority over all medical, surgical, and public health matters in the colony. –The First Female Doctor in Britain Spent 56 Years Disguised as a Man by Lauren Young

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write the story of someone who has to use a disguise to pursue a dream.

Journaling Prompt: Would you be brave enough to do what this woman did in order to pursue a goal?

Art Prompt: Playing Doctor

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience a stranger than fiction story that is 100% true.

Photo Credit: James Barry (surgeon) on Wikimedia

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