Dr James Barry was a brilliant physician, and performed the first ever emergency caesarean on a kitchen table in Cape Town in 1826. He was also, unbeknownst to his colleagues until his death in 1865, a woman.
Dr Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley. When her family moved to London she started taking lessons from the physician Edward Frye, and proved herself a highly intelligent and capable student. Margaret wanted to be a doctor, but women were not allowed to study in university at the time. So she disguised herself as a boy, and enrolled herself in Edinburgh aged 14. Her original plan was to move eventually to Venezuela, where women were allowed to study, but when that plan fell through, she remained James.
As a young man, James fought two duels, joined the British Army as a surgeon, and served in Europe, India, South Africa and Canada, proving himself a formidable soldier. Dr Barry was described by one Florence Nightingale as a “brute”, and “the most hardened creature I have ever met throughout the army”.
Barry was also a brilliant doctor. He is credited with performing the first ever emergency Caesarean, on a kitchen table in Cape Town in 1826. Despite the lack of both anesthetics and antiseptics, both mother and baby lived.
Barry died in 1865, the same year that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor. She had fooled the army and the medical establishment and had been one of Britain’s most eminent surgeons for decades. Upon her death it was discovered, through stretch marks on her stomach that she had even once been pregnant herself.