New musical celebrating life of Britain’s first female doctor in development


A new musical celebrating the life of Britain’s first female physician and surgeon, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, is now in development. The musical is provisionally planned to launch in the 2023 – 2024 season.

LADIES FIRST follows Elizabeth on her mission to make medicine a field that welcomes women. It will see Elizabeth co-found Britain’s first medical school for women with Sophia Jex Blake and be the first woman to enter the British Medical Association. But LADIES FIRST is a story of both triumph and heartbreak: Elizabeth had to overcome adversity from society and family alike to become the country’s first female doctor. She will also learn that to pursue what you love and believe in, you must sometimes pay the ultimate price.

Accompanied by an uplifting, heart-wrenching score brimming with classical, lively and orchestral numbers, the musical will provide a gripping and historically faithful retelling of Elizabeth’s life, encouraging comparisons between politics today and the politics of Elizabeth’s time.

LADIES FIRST is also a call to invest more in exploring the role that women have played and continue to play in the development of the UK’s healthcare system. It will also highlight the incredible work of healthcare professionals during times of national crisis.

Original music and lyrics will be created by Alice Johnstone, who is making her creative musical debut. She is joined by Georgia Denham, an award-winning student of The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and one of Sound and Music’s ‘New Voices’ for 2020. Director and dramaturg Kitty Ball, selected by the BBC and Arts Council England as a Northern New Creative, is also supporting the musical.

The development of the musical has been welcomed by members of Elizabeth’s family.

Alice Johnstone, composer of LADIES FIRST said: “Elizabeth’s life story is fascinating. She was an incredibly intelligent woman and a trailblazer of the 19th Century. Many people know about her because of that. But the challenges she faced in her personal and professional life, like family disapproval and the struggle to choose between becoming a wife or a doctor, remain largely untold.

“Through a diverse array of musical styles and lyrics, LADIES FIRST will reinforce just how far society has come since 1865. But it will also show us how far we have to go. While its agenda has changed somewhat since the 19th century, feminism is still highly relevant and necessary today – and Elizabeth helps us to remember that.”

Georgia Onslow, great, great, great granddaughter of Elizabeth, said: “I was thrilled to learn of LADIES FIRST. Elizabeth was a pioneer of the women’s rights movement in medicine, education and suffrage. She was also the first woman to become a mayor in England – her life story is well worth exploring. Her legacy still lives on today at University College London Hospital’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing; Elizabeth would be proud of the high quality medical work for women and babies that continues to take place there under her name. I am sure that she would be equally pleased that her legacy is helping to inspire a new generation of women.”

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