Last week I told you part one of the story of the Surgeon’s Hall Riot which took place 150 years again on November 18, 1870.

I explained how a group of women medical students known as the Edinburgh Seven – the first female medical students in the UK - approached Surgeons’ Hall in the capital to sit their exams in anatomy. They were Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, Emily Bovell and the Englishwoman recognised as their leader, Sophia Jex-Blake.

A riot ensued when several hundred male students and bystanders, many of them drunk, pelted the women with mud and rubbish and attempted to stop the Seven from taking the exam on the simple and misogynistic ground that women should not be allowed to study medicine. Only the intervention of brave Irish male students stopped grievous harm to the women.

In many ways, what happened after the riot was much, much worse for the Seven though it should be admitted that public sympathy very much turned their way, with The Scotsman and other newspapers highlighting the barbarity of their treatment.

Despite the public excoriation of their activities, the male students refused to back down and just five days after the riot, a petition was collected and sent to the Royal College of Surgeons signed by 66 men, all of them studying medicine.

They complained about not having been consulted about the teaching of female students which was “directly contrary to their desire”.

Their chief complaints was “that the presence of women at the classes of anatomy and surgery, and in the Dissecting room of the College, gives rise to various feelings which tend to distract the attention of the Students from important subjects of study.”

Then came their barely-veiled menace, preserved in the records of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh: “That the presence of women in the classes of the Royal College of Surgeons has produced and cherished a feeling of discord which threatens to lead to serious consequences.”

READ MORE: Back in the Day: Surgeons’ Hall riot that changed minds about women doctors

Quite disgracefully, but very much in keeping with the prevailing mood of the medical profession at the time, the College voted by 27 to four against mixed classes.

The Seven then tried to get the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to allow them to “walk the wards”, the activity which originally stirred the distaste of the male students and some administrators of the University. The Infirmary’s faculty voted 100 to 98 to continue opposing the Seven.

An attempt to silence Jex-Blake was made by one of the male students by the name of Edward Cunningham Craig, who sued her for defamation in the sum of £1,000 after Jex-Blake identified him as a ringleader at the Riot. Craig was heavily influenced by the professor to whom he had acted as classroom assistant, Dr Robert Christison, a known opponent of female students.

In a speech to the contributors – a sort of governing body – of the Royal Infirmary, Jex-Blake accused Craig of being drunk and using foul language at the Riot. Her lawyers told Lord Mure and a jury at the Court of Session that her words were “fair comment” and not malicious.

In a barely credible development, I can reveal that one of the contributors who first heard Jex-Blake’s case at the Infirmary was none other than Dr Joseph Bell, the man on whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character of Sherlock Holmes. One can only hope that Bell applied his forensic talent to the issue, and Jex-Blake certainly seems to have had encouragement from within the medical fraternity to fight the case.

Despite some less than fair interventions from Lord Mure, including his summing up speech, the jury found in favour of Craig, but awarded him the princely sum of one farthing – their way of saying “you deserved it, sonny”.

Jex-Blake was faced with the costs of the case but these were raised by a public appeal. Time was also catching up on the misogynists of Edinburgh – legislation began to make its way through Parliament that would eventually allow women not only to study medicine but become doctors.

That was still some time in the future when Jex-Blake was back in the Court of Session in 1873 when the University Court banned the women from graduating. The Seven’s number had been reduced by marriages, three of the women having wed in 1871, including Helen Evans marrying Scotsman editor Alexander Russel. The remaining four plus some new women students went to the highest civil court in Scotland to try and win the right to graduate, but the University Court argued that the decision to admit the women as students in 1869 was “ultra vires” – beyond the legal powers of those who took that decision.

The Court of Session upheld the University’s case, and the women students, at least one of whom had been top of her class, now had no way of graduating. Yet they did not give up.

Jex-Blake moved to London and founded the School of Medicine for Women, with six of the Seven eventually taking up roles there. Five of them went on to graduate from medical schools on the Continent and Jex-Blake came back to Edinburgh to become the city’s first woman doctor as well as founding the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women which produced, among others, Dr Elsie Inglis. In total, six of the Seven who defied the rioters on that November day in 1870 went on to have successful careers.

There is now a plaque commemorating the Riot at Surgeons’ Hall. I would suggest there should be much greater recognition of the extraordinary Edinburgh Seven.