Pioneering Edinburgh Seven students awarded honorary degrees

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Edinburgh University students pick up the degrees on behalf of their predecessors (Douglas Robertson/Edinburgh University/PA)

Seven women who were among the first females to be admitted to a British university have been awarded posthumous degrees 150 years after they started their studies.

The group, known collectively as the Edinburgh Seven, enrolled to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869.

But they faced substantial resistance from their male peers and were ultimately prevented from graduating and qualifying as doctors.

Their campaign against this won them national attention and prominent supporters such as Charles Darwin.

In 1877, legislation was introduced to ensure women could study at university.

The seven women – Mary Anderson, Emily Bovell, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Sophia Jex-Blake, Edith Pechey and Isabel Thorne – have been awarded posthumous honorary Bachelor of Medicine degrees as part of a ceremony at the university’s McEwan Hall.

Seven female students from Edinburgh Medical School have picked up the certificates on their behalf, with the graduation part of a number of events being held by the university to honour the achievements of the women.

Third-year medical student Simran Paya, who collected an award on behalf of Sophia Jex-Blake, said: “We are honoured to accept these degrees on behalf of our predecessors, who are an inspiration to us all.”

Professor Peter Mathieson, the principal and vice-chancellor at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are delighted to confer the degrees rightfully owed to this incredible group of women.

“The segregation and discrimination that the Edinburgh Seven faced might belong to history, but barriers still exist that deter too many talented young people from succeeding at university.

“We must learn from these women and strive to widen access for all who have the potential to succeed.”