Enid Tribe made history when she became one of the first women to be elected to The Physiological Society. The group of six women were elected on 3rd July 1915, making a huge step towards sexual equality and acknowledging women as equal in intelligence and academic rigour as men.
Tribe was a lecturer of histology – the microscopic anatomy of the tissues in animals and plants – at the London School of Medicine for Women (now UCL Medical School) which was the first medical school in Britain to train women. It was there that she met her colleague Winifred Cullis, who was another of the first six women to be elected members of the Physiological Society. Tribe and Cullis ran many research projects and in 1913 published a paper detailing the distribution of nerves in the mammalian heart and showed how drugs act on nerve endings. In 1914 Tribe published her individual paper proving that adrenalin affects the lungs by stimulating nerve endings within the organ.
Tribe was born in the late 1800s, when women had a difficult time being recognised as serious scientists. The Physiological Society, a union for many physiologists like Tribe, didn’t have a rule against female members, but nevertheless none had been elected until 1915. Women were sometimes allowed to attend meetings which would contain live readings or experiments. But the central events of the meetings – the dinners that followed them – were only open to the members of the Society and as such were exclusive to men.
In 1915, there was a big change. The Society committee passed ‘Rule 36’ – stating that ‘women be eligible for membership of the Society and have the same rights, duties and privileges as men’.
To gain membership, Tribe was first proposed by a Society member and gained thirteen signatures in favour of her membership. Finally, on 3rd July 1915, Tribe and five other women were voted in as the first female members of the Society.
On 3rd July 2015 The Physiological Society is celebrating 100 years of women and diversity within the society.