Dr Jeannie MacLeod

1874 – 1902

Born in Edinburgh, Jeannie MacLeod was educated at Aberdeen High School for Girls. In 1902, she became the second female graduate from the University of Aberdeen’s Medical School. Prior to this, she proved herself to be exceedingly academically gifted when studying for the St Andrews LLA (Ladies Licentiate in Arts) as she attained honours in all subjects.

Upon completing her education in 1892, MacLeod taught French at her alma mater for a year before moving to the Miller Institution in Thurso to teach French and German. In 1897, MacLeod enrolled at the Medical School in Aberdeen. Here, MacLeod continued to demonstrate her academic prowess by winning many prizes and awards. She also took an active role in several extracurricular activities; she was the first president of the Women’s Medical Society.

It is hard to imagine the uphill struggle MacLeod faced when she embarked upon her goal of becoming a doctor in the Victorian era. Not only did she achieve her ambition during a time when little was expected from women but her outstanding academic record, and her dedication to her supplementary pursuits, demonstrates the extent of her success. This is particularly impressive as MacLeod managed to excel in an environment that was often hostile as she faced opposition from her male colleagues. Although MacLeod achieved much academically, she was praised by her teachers for her strong and modest character, as well as her talent.

Upon graduating from medical school, MacLeod began working as a House Officer in the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children. She excelled in anaesthesia studies at university and it is likely that she was the sole anaesthetist for several emergency operations within days of qualifying. The lack of student support and professional development is unthinkable from the perspective of a contemporary student. Sadly, one week after she began her career as a doctor, Jeannie MacLeod committed suicide at the age of 28 years; the circumstances surrounding MacLeod’s death are uncertain. There was an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in the days before MacLeod’s death, which claimed the lives of many children. It is possible that these tragic events may have impacted MacLeod’s mental health.

MacLeod was a pioneer who helped pave the way for future women doctors; her remarkable talent helped set a precedent not only of equality, but for how successful women can be. It is also important to remember that while MacLeod’s achievements contributed to positive changes in society, the pressure she felt must have been considerable. Furthermore, MacLeod’s tragic death shines a light on the ever-present issue of mental illness and suicide in doctors and medical students. The university archive boasts several of MacLeod’s objects, such as her spectacles and pocket watch, as well as her academic medals. Three annual prizes in her name have been established within the Medical School and the university has recently commissioned a portrait by Richard Greaves to honour her memory.

Medal for Midwifery 1901-2 (ABDUA:13778);
Medal for Practice of Medicine (ABDUA:13779);
Medal for Systematic Zoology 1897-8 – (ABDUA:13780);
Medal for Midwifery 1901-2 (ABDUA:13781);
Sampler Jeannie made at the age of 10 (ABDUA:85288);
Pocket watch (ABDUA:85289);
Spectacles (ABDUA:85290);
Syringe (ABDUA:85291);
Silver Inkwell (ABDUA:85292);
Calling card box (ABDUA:85293).

Biography prepared from the nomination made to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.