The most famous surgeon of the 19th century was actually a woman

When it comes to achievements in the field of medicine in the 19th century, there is one surgeon whose name has become legend. But unfortunately that legend has been overshadowed by an incredible secret that was revealed about him after his death.

His main achievements were related to discovering the role of hygiene in medicine. As a result, the survival rate of his patients was considered astronomical for that period. By identifying the connection between dirty pipes, fecal matter and diseases, he was able to stop the spread of cholera and leprosy that plagued the African continent. He was also the first docter to carry out a completely successful C-section where both the baby and the mother survived.

However, after his death in 1865, the nurse in charge of preparing his body got a very shocking surprise when she lifted the sheet off his body...

Youtube/The Irish Audio Project

James Miranda Barry did not exist before he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. He excelled at his studies and was one of the few to graduate from the prestigious medical school. He then worked as a volunteer and took classes day and night to become a surgeon.

When he was finished his studies, he entered the army as a surgeon and worked in different countries that were colonies of the British Empire. In Jamaica, India, Crimea, South Africa and other countries his medical achievements earned him great renown. The effects of his work became evident everywhere — hospitals were established in places that had previously had no medical facilities, the spread of cholera was stopped and various surgical operations were perfected.

He reached the highest rank a military doctor can achieve: Inspector General of Hospitals. He also became a close friend of Governor Charles Somerset. But none of that mattered when the truth about his life was discovered, for when the nurse who prepared his body for the funeral lifted the sheet that covered him, she discovered the unthinkable: James Barry, the famous doctor of the British Navy, had been a woman!

It turned out that James Barry's real name was Margaret Ann Bulkley. She was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1789 and even when she was still just a child, her intelligence was obvious to everyone. Her uncle, James Barry (whose name she adopted) and his close friend Francisco Miranda (a prominent Venezuelan politician) saw Margaret's potential and were determined to help her become a doctor. But at that time women were not allowed to study medicine, so they came up with the risky plan of trying to pass off the young woman as a man.

Margaret received her uncle's name and Francisco Miranda promised to take her to Venezuela after she finished her medical training. There she would be able to practice medicine as a woman. But their plan was foiled when Miranda was captured by the Spanish in Cadiz and died a short time later. From then on, Margaret had to hide her true identity forever.

Margaret made the decision to join the army and go to other countries to avoid being discovered in her country. She managed to hide the fact that she was a woman, but her personality and mannerisms often got her into trouble — she even had a duel with pistols against someone who dared to question her manhood. In fact, rumors that she had a homosexual relationship with Governor Charles Somerset ruined the politician's career.

The scandal that ensued after the discovery of the true gender of the famous surgeon overshadowed the successes that this incredible woman achieved in the area of medicine. Thanks to her pioneering work to improve hygiene and sterilization, untold lives were saved.

Youtube/The Irish Audio Project

In 1864 Barry returned to England but died shortly after due to poor health. Today her legacy is celebrated: Margaret Ann Bulkley was the first female doctor in Britain. Thanks to her courage, she made valuable advances in modern medicine. Her determination, ability, strength and intelligence should not be forgotten.

But the story didn't end there. Apparently the nurse who discovered that she was actually a woman also saw marks on her stomach that would indicate that Margaret had also been pregnant. That's right! There's a good chance that this famous surgeon had at least one child. And who was the father? Nobody knows. It's just one of those mysteries that will remain hidden among the folds of history.

You can watch the exciting story of Margaret's life in this video:

It's thanks to pioneers such as Margaret Ann Bulkley that the medical and scientific world has benefited from numerous contributions from women both before and since. Although, there is still progress to be made, thank goodness women don't have to struggle against such extreme opposition to gain access to their chosen careers nowadays! 

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