First female student at Royal Botanic Garden ‘posed as man’

The grounds at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The grounds at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
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A 19TH century surgeon who posed as a man to reach the top of the profession studied plants at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), archivists have revealed.

James Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley in Cork, Ireland, around 1790, but gained a place at Edinburgh’s medical school after adopting a male disguise.

Now RBGE archivists have discovered she had a botanical education under its Regius Keeper, Daniel Rutherford. She was also its first female student at a time when medicine was an all-male profession.

Archivist Leonie Paterson said: “It is exciting to find this confirmation of probably the first woman to have studied at RBGE.”

Barry’s signature has gone on display in a special exhibition running until March 30.