The Curious Case of Dr. James Barry

Today I highlight the remarkable life and career of James Barry, who died on July 25, 1865.

Barry graduated from the University of Edinburgh Medical School and the Royal College of Surgeons of England before becoming a military surgeon in the British Army.  He served in India and South Africa, where he successfully performed the first African caesarian section in which both mother and child survived.  During the Crimean War, he achieved the highest recovery rate for sick and wounded soldiers.  Promoted to the level of Inspector General of Hospitals in Canada, he argued for better food, sanitation and medical care for soldiers, prisoners and lepers.

The remarkable part of this story is that after his death, James Barry was discovered to have been a woman.  By the time this information was revealed, Barry had already been buried with full military honors.  The British Army, embarrassed, ordered all records sealed for 100 years.

It is now believed that Margaret Bulkley left a destitute childhood and chose to live as a man so that she could pursue a university degree and a surgical career.  Her successful subterfuge makes her the first female surgeon in the Western World.  How she maintained her masquerade over a 50-plus year career is anybody’s guess, but as biographer Charles Roland notes, “Barry’s personal life must have been difficult in any case.”

Robert Leitch adds, “She chose to be a military doctor. Not to fight for the right of a woman to become one – but simply to be one. The quickest course then was to become a man in the eyes of the world.”

James Barry (circa 1813-1816)

James Barry (circa 1813-1816)

Even today, women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics continue to face challenges.  The U.S. Department of Labor says, “Employment of women has lagged in most of the high-tech occupations that show promise for future growth.”  The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, says, “Women in STEM occupations not only have low density rates, they also struggle with rates of unemployment that are higher than their male counterparts.”

Agilent is proud to include global diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination policies among its worldwide business practices.  “I would define ‘diversity’ in the broadest terms,” says Agilent President and CEO Bill Sullivan.  “It’s not just race and gender; it’s the diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds.

“We are more diverse today than ever.  And I can’t be more proud of the culture we have created at Agilent, one that allows and encourages all employees to be able to make a contribution.”


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