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Huguenots – a remarkable woman - Elizabeth Courtauld (1867-1947)

Elizabeth was a remarkable woman and a member of the distinguished Huguenot family – the Courtaulds.

 

Elizabeth was the third child of industrialist and politician George Courtauld and his wife Susanna Elizabeth Savil, she was born on the 2nd of December 1867 in Gosfield, Essex. Elizabeth was enrolled as a residential pupil at a school, Edge Hill, Wimbledon. She returned home once she reached the age of 16 years, but although she was no longer in an educational establishment for the next three years, she received private tuition in a range of subjects that included botany, music, drawing, geography, French, German, geology, and arithmetic.

 

Elizabeth began her travels in her early 20s, when she began to make extended trips to visit friends in Germany before commencing her nurses training at the Deaconesses Institute of Kaiserswerth near Dusseldorf. The Institute delivered care for the needy sick as well as education for women in nursing skills. Florence Nightingale had previously studied at this Institute.

 

She began work as a nurse in Cheltenham Hospital in January 1891 having temporarily abandoned her plans to train as a doctor because of her father’s vehement disapproval.  After four years she decided to pursue her first chosen career and enrolled at the London School of Medicine for Women aged just 28 years old. She qualified by sitting for the licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, which permitted her name to be entered on the Medical Register.

 

In 1903, she completed a degree of Doctor of Medicine in Brussels, she did not have the qualifications to sit for a medical degree in London thus at that time the established route was via Brussels.

 

Having gained her qualification she accepted a position at the Church of England Zenana Mission Hospital in Bangalore. Apart from her years of service during the First World War, she was to remain in her role with the Zenana Missionary as “An independent worker, not a missionary”.

 

Whilst on leave from India, an old student friend, Frances Ivens, invited her to join the Scottish Women’s Hospital unit at Royaumont, an auxiliary hospital with 200 beds. She accepted and went to work there from January 1916 to March 1919. The hospital was under the greatest pressure during the German advance on the Aisne in May 1918. Elizabeth wrote to her father describing the situation: “There came an order for the hospital to evacuate …Then came an order that heaps of terribly wounded were expected, and we could stay on. We were glad. It seemed horrid to be told to go and leave things behind us. All night we were hard at it and working under difficulties. Terrible cases came in…….we had to amputate thighs and one leg mostly by the light of bits of candle, held by the orderlies, and as for me giving the anesthetic, I did it more or less in the dark at the end of the patient….

 

Elizabeth was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for her war service.


After she retired from her work in India she settled in Greenstead Green, Essex in 1927 aged 60. She died in 1947, aged 81.





Portrait of Elizabeth Courtauld, 1871 - Edward Poynter

 

Further reading

 

Angels of Mercy: A Women's Hospital on the Western Front 1914-1918. Eileen Crofton

 

"Dr. Elizabeth Courtauld". The British Medical Journal. 1 (4541): 129–129.

 

"The Brussels M.D.". The British Medical Journal. 1 (1367): 580–580. 1887.

 

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