Friday, June 12, 2020

Wendy Moore's "No Man's Land"

Wendy Moore is a freelance journalist and author of five non-fiction books on medical and social history. Her first book, The Knife Man, is a biography of the 18th-century surgeon John Hunter. Her second, Wedlock, tells the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes, a rich heiress tricked into marriage by a fortune-hunter. It was a Channel 4 TV Book Club choice and no 1 in the Sunday Times bestseller list. Moore's third book, How to Create the Perfect Wife, is the story of Thomas Day, a philanthropist who trained two foundlings in a bid to create his perfect wife. Her fourth, The Mesmerist, is the tale of the doctor who introduced hypnotism to Victorian London. Moore's new book, titled Endell Street in the UK and No Man's Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain's Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I in the US, is about Endell Street Military Hospital, which was run and staffed by women in London in the First World War.

Moore applied the “Page 99 Test” to No Man’s Land and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford was plainly right – at least in terms of the page 99 test on my new book No Man’s Land. The page, roughly one-third of the way through the book, marks a crucial turning point in the story.

Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson, two experienced doctors and former suffragettes, have already set up and run two hospitals in France treating wounded soldiers from the nearby Western Front. Women doctors had never previously treated men or performed military surgery but Murray and Anderson had proved their worth to such an extent that Sir Alfred Keogh, head of the British Army’s medical services, had invited them, in February 1915, to open a major military hospital in the heart of London staffed entirely by women. But it was not plain sailing.

The chapter title at the top of page 99 says it all: Good God! Women! This was the response from the army colonel in charge of converting the Victorian workhouse the women had been allotted - in Endell Street, Covent Garden - into a functioning hospital when Murray and Anderson arrived on site. Other army officers were equally hostile and unhelpful. But, as the opening paragraph on page 99 explains, these two seasoned campaigners of the battle for the women’s vote (who were also life partners), were undaunted.
After weeks of little or no progress on the site, Murray and Anderson finally took matters into their own hands. They directly petitioned Keogh, insisting that the renovations be put under their command, and Endell Street Military Hospital was formally handed over on March 22. Using their customary brand of ‘mild militancy’ which had worked such miracles in Paris and Wimereux, the two women then charmed, cajoled and threatened the workmen so that the alterations which had proved so troublesome were now completed within a few weeks.
By the beginning of May, as the page concludes, the hospital was taking shape with 520 beds in 17 wards, two operating theatres, an X-ray room and, of course, a mortuary. So page 99 provides a perfect example of the way in which these two formidable women persevered in the face of seemingly impossible odds in order to prove that women doctors were just as capable as their male colleagues.

Endell Street Military Hospital stayed open throughout World War One, treating more than 26,000 wounded soldiers. It was hailed a triumph by the press, the public and the medical profession – and, most importantly, by its grateful patients. When the war ended the hospital remained open for a further year, treating victims of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. But when the doors finally closed in late 1919 women doctors – all the women staff – were expected to go back to exactly the same lowly jobs they had had before.
Learn more about the book and author at Wendy Moore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue