RCSI Women. Remarkable women of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

My practicum is with the Heritage Collections department of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).  The main aim of the project was to create an online platform to give visibility to women who have been associated with the RCSI in the past.

An important first step for any project is developing an understanding of project scope, stakeholder requirements and, where relevant, audience needs.  These were discussed at the first project meeting on the 29th January and those discussions and the decisions made then were to guide delivery throughout the project.

In common with many official histories, the stories of women in the RCSI have been less visible than those of their male counterparts.  This is one of a number of initiatives to acknowledge and celebrate women who broke boundaries to become leaders in medicine and who made a significant contribution to healthcare in Ireland and abroad.

From the outset, it was intended that the website would be built on a free open source platform linked to the RCSI institutional website, www.rcsi.ie, that it would be maintained and added to by Heritage Collections department staff beyond the timeframe of this practicum and that a step by step guide to adding profiles to the website would form part of the practicum deliverables.

Notwithstanding that the RCSI are in the process of redesigning the institutional website, the choice of platform as well as design and layout choices, were made to complement the main RCSI site which has a sharp, clear and clinical feel and a limited colour palette of white and  red (reflecting the barber’s pole, symbol of the origins of the surgeon’s guild) with black and grey, and to take account of the digital skills of the staff who would maintain the site.

The content relies heavily on the material available from the RCSI archive (Heritage Collections) http://www.rcsi.ie/heritagecollections and the institutional aims to promote the RCSI itself.  It is primarily the stories of 8 selected women illustrated with a small number of available images and with biographies drawn from both the RCSI archive and the Dictionary of Irish Biography http://dib.cambridge.org/ contextualised by historical and  medical information and a glossary of terms and current news items related to the RCSI initiatives to  balance gender representation.  Given that very under representation it was at times difficult to find suitable images and the choice of the image of the first female fellow of the RCSI as a lone woman amongst her male colleagues as one of the banner images illustrates this reality.

Emily Winifred Dickson and Colleagues

Emily Winifred Dickson and Colleagues, 1896. Courtesy of the RCSI

The organisation of the content was influenced by the content itself, by anticipated audience needs and by the research of Dr. Laura Kelly, a leading authority on the history of medicine in Ireland and on women in medicine (Kelly).  Her research suggests that there is scope for future research on the career paths of women medics once they had completed their training.  For this reason, where the information is available, the hospitals and medical organisations with which the women were associated have been captured in a database and are available on the website.  This not only gives an overview of the geographical sphere of influence of the women but allows an access point for all women associated with a specific hospital.  Similarly, women involved in a specific medical specialism can be accessed in this way.

Multiple audiences were considered, ranging from individuals and families associated with the college, past and present, those with a specific interest in medical history or women’s history, audiences interested in history generally or those whose interests might lie in a particular woman, a specific hospital or place.  Not only was it therefore considered useful to have a glossary of terms for non-medical audiences, but it was important to provide multiple access points that would reflect the interests of the audiences.  These include a gallery of images, an historical timeline, a glossary of terms and the medical specialisms and hospital categories mentioned above as well as more generic geographical locations.

A first iteration of the site, with the main structure in place but with limited content, was completed by 1st March in time to mark International Women’s Day 2018 on March 8th, and was developed and enriched thereafter.  Since that time there has been a small level of interaction from audiences.  Once the site is linked to the main RCSI site it is likely that traffic will increase significantly.

To date the RCSI were able to source an image of one of the women by means of a public call out on the website, some additional information has been forthcoming from family members of 2 of the women featured and a new Wikipedia page has appeared for one of the women, with a link to the RCSI women site.

An interactive gallery on the website

It has been an interesting and enjoyable experience getting to this point and I will certainly be interested in learning more about these pioneering women as the website progresses.  The first audience interactions have been gratifying and it is with more than a little reluctance that I hand the site back to the RCSI.

You can visit the RCSI Women site here.  The site is hopefully a beginning with many more stories to come.




Kelly, Laura. Irish Women in Medicine. Manchester University Press, 2013.

The Archive of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland






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