An east London pioneer and political activist has been celebrated with a Google Doodle on her birthday (June 9), 180 years ago.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, one of 12 children born to a Whitechapel couple, went on to defy convention as the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor as well challenge society across the spectrum by championing the feminist movement.

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Born in 1836, she was educated in Blackheath and fell into domestic service. Her medical ambition was thwarted when she was denied a place at a number of specialist schools before she enrolled in nursing classes, attending classes for male doctors and taking private evening classes.

The Society of Apothecaries did not specifically bar women from taking exams and, in 1862, she managed to pass their exams to gain a certificate which would allow her to become a doctor. The society immediately changed its rules to ban any further women qualifying.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson c1889

In 1873 she gained membership of the British Medical Association and remained the only female member for 19 years after the Association voted against the admission of further women. Her determination cleared a path for other women, and in 1876 a law was passed allowing women to enter the medical professions.

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Elizabeth went on to co-found the first hospital staffed by women, and become the first dean of a British medical school, the first woman elected to a school board and the first female mayor and magistrate.

Throughout her career she was interested in the women’s suffrage movement and became more active after her husband’s death in 1907. Her daughter, Louisa, also a physician, spent time in prison in 1912 for her suffrage protests.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson died in December 1917, aged 81.