Millais: ‘Trust Me’
As she embarked on her novel medical career Elizabeth Garrett gave some thought as to how she should dress. In September 1860, while working as a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital, she wrote to Emily Davies:
‘Experience is modifying my notions about the most suitable style of dress for me to wear at the hospital. I feel confident now that one is helped rather than hindered by being as much like a lady as lies in one’s power. When my student life begins, I shall try to get very serviceable, rich, whole-coloured dressed that will do without trimmings and not require renewing often.’
Three years later, still trying to piece together her medical training, she spent the autumn of 1863 fulfilling the ‘clinical practice’ requirement for the London Society of Apothecaries’ qualification, by attending clinics at the London Dispensary in Spitalfields. As Jo Manton writes in her biography of Elizabeth, the London Dispensary was ‘charity at its bleakest’, 2000 outpatients from the surrounding slums passing through its doors each year. Thanks to the following brief comment in a letter to Harriet Cook, 23 December 1863, we, too, can picture Elizabeth Garrett as she travelled through sordid Whitechapel from her lodgings at 8 Philpot Street and then helped to treat patients in the Dispensary at 21 Church Street, Spitalfields (now 27 Fournier Street). Had she seen the Millais painting and thought ‘That is just the effect a tyro female doctor must create’?
’ I think your critical eyes would be satisfied if they could see me in my working dress. I was fortunate enough to find a delightful gown of bright pre-Raphaelite brown which has stood 9 weeks of hard and constant wear without losing its colour or freshness of look. So you can fancy me in it. The colour resembles that in Millais’ “Trust Me” tho’ the material is less magnificent than that was.’
27 Fournier Street, Spitalfields, formerly the London Dispensary