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Former First World War hospital to host drama about the suffragettes who set it up

Suffragettes set up a hospital that treated nearly 30,000 victims – despite official opposition

29 June, 2017 — By Tom Foot

The suffragettes carried out more than 7,000 operations

A DRAMA about how two suffragettes set up a First World War army hospital run entirely by women is being staged on the site of the former building.

An audience will be given the chance to hear patients’ stories and experience tensions between surgeons and authorities at the former 573-bed hospital in Covent Garden. The Endell Street Military Hospital opened in May 1915 on the grounds of what is now the Swiss Church, Dudley Court.

It had 180 women staff and was run by two surgeons, Dr Flora Murray and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson. Both women were former members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

An “immersive drama” production – Deeds Not Words: Endell St Military Hospital – is being staged in the original building on July 7 and 8.

Alison Ramsey, from production company Digital Drama, said: “Visitors to this immersive ‘promenade’ event will get a fascinating glimpse into the relentless work of the women who ran the hospital and the struggles they faced, and not only from the enormous number of casualties. Life at the hospital was incredibly challenging. Endell Street was near main railway stations which meant the hospital received a high proportion of severely injured soldiers – when convoys arrived at the hospital, carrying up to 80 men at a time, there could be as many as 30 needing immediate surgery.”

As well as meeting key hospital figures and hearing the stories of patients who were treated there, visitors will experience first-hand the tensions that existed between the surgeons and authorities before and during the controversial hospital’s four and a half year life. The Women’s Library at London School of Economics is also involved in the project that aims to commemorate the doctors, surgeons, nurses and orderlies who worked there.

Both Dr Murray and Dr Garrett had run hospitals in France but despite this the Royal Army Medical Corps’ refused to sanction their project. Despite this, the hospital treated more than 26,000 patients and performed 7,000 operations.

In 1917, Murray and Anderson each received the CBE for their work in the hospital, but in October 1919 Endell Street was ordered to close.   Historian Dr Jennian Geddes, a retired neuropathologist and relative of Louisa Garrett Anderson, campaigned for a commemorative plaque to be placed on the site of the hospital in 2008. Dr Geddes said that “every woman doctor should recognise her debt to the struggles of her early predecessors”. There are nine performances at the Swiss Church building and there will also be a pop-up exhibition at the Women’s Library LSE and Camden Borough Archives between July and December.

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