Louisa Aldrich-Blake’s 154th Birthday – “When you start a thing you must finish it.” This was the motto by which British physician Louisa Aldrich-Blake lived, which served her well while she developed innovative surgical techniques, saved the lives of soldiers during World War I, and broke down barriers for women entering the medical profession. Today’s Doodle celebrates the birth of Britain’s first female surgeon on this day in 1865.
At age 22, Dr. Aldrich-Blake enrolled in the London School of Medicine for Women intending to do “something useful.” She went on to earn a gold medal for surgery in 1893 and an M.D. in 1894, becoming the first woman certified as Master of Surgery in English history a year later.
Her 1903 paper detailing an innovative treatment for rectal cancer was published in the British Medical Journal. From 1910-1925, she practiced surgery at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and worked at the Royal Free Hospital where she became the first female surgical registrar, anesthetist, and lecturer on anesthetics.
During the First World War, Dr. Aldrich-Blake spent her holidays working with the Anglo-French Red Cross in a field hospital near Paris where patients called her “Madame Générale.” Defying critics who questioned whether women belonged in military hospitals, she personally wrote to every female doctor she knew, encouraging them to volunteer and inspiring many young women to enroll in medical school.
In 1925, Dr. Aldrich-Blake was named a Dame of the British Empire, and a statue was erected in her honor near the headquarters of the British Medical Association.
Doodler Up Close
Today’s Doodle was created by Doodler Lydia Nichols. Below, she shares some thoughts on Louisa-Adrich Blake and the inspiration for this Doodle:
Q: Louisa Aldrich-Blake was a remarkable woman who accomplished so many firsts. What part of her story do you find most inspiring personally?
A: When someone accomplishes a lot of firsts, it’s usually indicative of their character. Looking at Aldrich-Blake’s life, you’ll see that she was tenacious and brave with her strength exemplified by her altruism and sense of duty, particularly during the First World War.
Q: What made you decide to focus on her surgical toolbox in the Doodle?
A: It can be challenging to articulate the concept “surgeon” without showing the action or modern surgical garb. The toolbox hopefully conveys Aldrich-Blake’s profession while also providing a nod to the era in which she was working.
Q: The color palette and typography are very simple and powerful. What’s the intention behind those creative choices?
A: I looked to WWI–era posters for their boldness and simplicity. It seemed an appropriate source of inspiration not only because it was the era Aldrich-Blake lived through, but because of her own straightforwardness and boldness.
Q: At what point in your life did you know that you loved the visual arts? Was there a particular artist or teacher who inspired you to develop your talents?
A: Like most children, drawing was my first form of expression. I just never gave up on it. There’s something magical about being able to create—or re-create—the world with just your hands and a couple of simple tools. Illustrations tell stories, evoke emotions, and start conversations. They are much more than just images and I’ve always loved and admired that power and responsibility.
Q: What advice or encouragement would you give to fellow artists who may be approaching a project like this, where the challenge is to represent a little-known historical figure with a big story using a single image?
A: In many ways, image-making is akin to writing—you’re trying to tell a story or communicate an idea. Whether you’re choosing words or choosing shapes and colors, it’s up to you to determine the tone and detail with which you share the sentiment at hand. In the case of Doodles, we often have to tell expansive stories very succinctly. As I research, I jot down key words and ideas to come back to, looking for something visually stimulating. Medical figures can be particularly challenging because the tools and garb have evolved so much over time.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to bring stories like Louisa Aldrich-Blake’s to a wide audience?
A: The world is full of inspiring stories, but sometimes they take work to unearth. My favorite part about the Doodle Team is that it’s our mission to do the unearthing. It’s truly a privilege to share stories that might otherwise get lost or forgotten because these stories of yesteryear shaped (and continue to shape!) our world today. If Aldrich-Blake hadn’t pioneered so many surgeries, who knows how long such progress would have taken? Every action ripples out and stories like hers are a testament to the impact that actions, both large and small, can have.
You can find more about Louisa Aldrich-Blake’s 154th Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page