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Ruth Skelton

1 January 1800

Ruth Skelton made history by becoming one of the first six women to be elected as a member of The Physiological Society, on 3rd July 1915. This was a big step towards sexual equality, and acknowledged that women have the ability to be just as intelligent and academic as men.

Skelton went to university and gained a Bachelor of Science degree from University College London (UCL). She then became a demonstrator, carrying out various scientific experiments in front of an audience. Her main area of interest was human physiology – the study of how the body works.

Skelton 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 Skelton, 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 one of the central events of the meetings – the dinners that followed them – were only open to the members of the Society, and were exclusive only 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, Skelton first had to be proposed by a Society member. Her proposal came from William Bayliss, Professor of Physiology at UCL and Royal Society Fellow, and she gained another five signatures in favour of her membership. Finally, on 3rd July 1915, Skelton and five other women were voted in as the first female members of the Society.

Skelton carried out her demonstrations at Western House, Beaconsfield. She published one paper, in 1921, on the force that the heart generates with every beat and how this influences the amount of blood pumped out of it.

On 3rd July 2015 The Physiological Society is celebrating 100 years of women and diversity within the society.