Thursday, March 6, 2008

Doctor "James Barry"

Dr James Barry graduated from the all-male Edinburgh College of Medicine (1812). After qualifiying, James Barry joined the British Army as a medical officer. Barry was sent to South Africa a year later and gained a reputation as a first-class surgeon. And it was in South Africa that Barry carried out the first successful ceasarian section (1826) - keep in mind that there were no antiseptics.

As Colonial Medical Inspector at the Cape, Barry imposed strict control upon apothecaries and the supply of drugs. Barry also improved the health standards in the gaols and leper colonies. At St Helena, Barry was court-martialed for a certain over-zealousness in attempting to improve the conditions of women patients in the hospital.

As the strutting, bombastic little doctor, Barry found himself in a duel and was wounded. ,Eventually Dr James Barry was promoted to become Inspector-General Surgeon to the British Army. Barry was in the Crimea for four months when the the British Army was at the nadir of it's medical history. Barry was the only medical officer with the invective and termerity to reprimand another equally formidable woman in the form of Miss Florence Nightingale (d.1910).

This much is know - and what was known for some time was that Dr James Barry was in fact a woman - and always had been. The name James Barry was adopted upon entry into Edinburgh College (1809) by a woman known as Miranda Stuart.

However, new evidence has come to light that Dr. James Barry may, in fact, have been one Margaret Bulkley, the daughter of an Irish Grocer.

According to an article in the Telegraph:
"Key evidence came from around two dozen letters, some written by Margaret as a teenager and others by Barry the student doctor.

Alison Reboul, a document analysis expert with the Forensic Science Service, has concluded they were written by the same person. Another newly-discovered letter was written by Barry to the family solicitor Daniel Reardon on "his" arrival in Edinburgh to study medicine in 1809.

Although the letter was signed 'James Barry', Reardon had written on the outside 'Miss Bulkley, 14th December’. "Reardon was a meticulous man," said du Preez."

The true identity of Dr. James Barry remained hidden by the British Army after the scandal, when Barry, succumbed to dysentery (1865). Only after Barry died, when the body was laid out to be prepared for burial, was Barry's true sex discovered.

And so, " ... a woman had posed as a man to become the first female medical graduate in Britain, fooled the army into employing her and then kept her sex secret for half a century."


The Telegraph: "Real Army Surgeon Actually A Woman"






5 comments:

Bilbo The Great said...

Never heard of Dr Barry until recently. Fascinating story. I have done some reading up on her-for a "her" Dr. Barry was indeed! BTW, the only known portrait of Barry was commissioned by family of child she delivered by performing the first ceasarien section known to the English-speaking world at Cape Town. Child was named after "him": Jmaes Barry Munnik. Good stuff!

Robert Padialla said...

Metal.

Lindasy Rosenwald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David George said...

Dr Barry has become something of a cause celebre recently because she may have been gay. Nothing wrong with that. However the anecdotal evidence points to the fact she she was a mother, at least once. An extraordinary history!

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