December 1917: The Oxford Bed

In the Michaelmas term of 1917, Somervillians began fundraising for the New Hospital for Women. By this stage of the war, medical provision for the civilian population was under severe strain, as military requirements took precedent in the deployment of resources and personnel. Since the beginning of the century, attempts had been made to address issues of mother and child health and infant mortality across the country; in Oxford, Somervillian Lettice Fisher was one of the founders of Infant Welfare Association. However, these funds were not destined for a local hospital but were part of a campaign to help the New Hospital for Women in London by endowing, with the other women’s colleges, an Oxford Bed.

Founded in 1866, the New Hospital for Women was pioneering in its treatment of women by women. Its founder, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, had also co-founded the London School of Medicine for Women, one of the few schools where Somerville students were able pursue medical studies in the pre-war period (Dr Dorothea Maude completed her training there in 1909; see January 1915 blog.) By 1917, the hospital was in ‘great need of financial support’ and, with the death of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in December 1917, such fundraising was regarded as a tribute to her memory. The women’s colleges were to appeal to all members, past and present, and the aim was to raise £1000 to provide a permanent endowment.SSA Annual Report 1918

It took over 30 months to reach the target amount, with students suggesting novel ways to raise funds such as donating 5 shillings each as a Christmas present to the hospital, arranging an ‘Intercollegiate Entertainment’ and donating the Sunday collections to the Oxford Bed. College Meeting minutes 24 May 1918Money was in short supply and there were many other causes in need of support, including the War Savings Association, the Russian Famine Fund and, after the Armistice, the Starving Europe Fund and an appeal to assist the University of Vienna.

The minutes of the college meeting held on 16th June 1920 recorded that the £1000 target for the New Hospital for Women fund had, at last, been reached and a letter of thanks was read. Thirteen months later, the Radcliffe Infirmary opened the first hospital for women in Oxford, a maternity hospital situated on Museum Road.