Doctor Barry’s Amazing Secret


How long could a woman pretend to be a man? Mike Procter and Marina Santee tell the amazing story of James Barry.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Mike Procter.

Voice 2 

And I’m Marina Santee. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It was July the 25th, 1865. Doctor James Barry was dead. He had been one of the best doctors in the British Army. He had risen to a high position in the military. Now his body would be buried. But the woman preparing his body was about to be very shocked. When she removed his clothes, she discovered that Doctor Barry was not a man. Doctor Barry was, in fact, a woman.

Voice 2 

Today’s Spotlight program is on the amazing story of Doctor Barry. By acting like a man, she was able to become a doctor. And as a doctor, she saved many lives and achieved great success.

Voice 1 

So who was Doctor Barry? Well, she was born over 200 years ago - as Margaret Bulkley. Her father owned a small business in Ireland. When Margaret was young, the family began to have money problems. Margaret’s father could not pay his debts. So officials sent him to prison

Voice 2 

After that, Margaret and her mother had almost no money. So they travelled to London. They hoped to find work and make enough money to keep them alive.

Voice 1 

Margaret wrote letters to her mother’s brother. She asked him for help. She hoped her uncle would help her achieve an education. Sadly, he was not very kind to her. But, after his death, some of his friends were kind. They helped Margaret get an education.  And she was an excellent student.

Voice 2 

It is unclear exactly what happened next. But together, Margaret, her mother and her uncle’s friends prepared a plan. They decided Margaret would study to become a doctor. But, at that time in Britain, only men could become doctors. So Margaret would need to make people think she was a man.

Voice 1 

This was a major decision. Margaret would have to lie. She could not tell anyone her secret. Margaret decided that being a doctor was worth it. So Margaret put away her young woman’s clothes. And she began to wear the clothes of a young man. She and her mother left London. They sailed to Scotland where no one knew them. There, Margaret would start medical school.

Voice 2 

Margaret would no longer be Margaret Bulkley. Instead, she called herself James Barry - the name of her dead uncle. Only three other people knew Margaret Bulkley’s secret. And these friends provided money and support for her medical studies.

Voice 1 

When Margaret finished medical school, she joined the British Army. There, she became a great surgeon. She skilfully operated on people’s bodies. And she saved many lives.

Voice 2 

Around the year 1815, the Army sent Doctor Barry to serve in South Africa.  There she made medical history. She became the first British surgeon to perform a Caesarian section. Doctor Barry performed this operation on a woman unable to give birth naturally. She cut open the mother’s stomach and removed the baby. Both the mother and baby survived. The mother named the baby boy James Barry, to honour the skilled doctor.

Voice 1 

Doctor Barry also worked hard to improve living conditions wherever she served. In South Africa she discovered the cause of Cape Town’s bad water. And she worked to get a better water system.

Voice 2 

Doctor Barry also used her power to reform the medical system. She made new rules so that only trained people could give out medicines to patients. She also introduced changes for patients in hospitals - like receiving better food and fresh air. And Doctor Barry improved care for soldiers and their families.

Voice 1 

Doctor Barry cared well for sick people and soldiers. However, she did not always have good relationships with her Army chiefs. She often got into trouble. When war broke out in Eastern Europe she made a request. She asked to serve in the Crimean War. But her chiefs said No.

Voice 2 

However, she went without their approval. There she met Florence Nightingale. Nightingale was a nurse. She achieved great honour for her work with injured soldiers. But James Barry and Florence Nightingale did not like each other. Barry often got angry quickly. And she often shouted at people. Florence Nightingale later wrote:

Voice 3 

“I say she was the hardest creature I ever met in the whole Army.”

Voice 1 

But Florence Nightingale and the Army officers never imagined Doctor Barry’s secret. Doctor Barry had a smooth face and high voice, but she acted like a man. She hid her female body under extra clothes. And she did a job that only men did. So no one suspected she was a woman.  She kept her secret for 50 years ... until the day she died.

Voice 2 

But even then some mystery remained. The woman who discovered James Barry’s secret did not tell people immediately. She waited until Doctor Barry’s body was buried. So no one could prove if she was telling the truth.

Voice 1 

The British Army denied that James Barry was a man. They closed Doctor Barry’s Army records for 100 years. They did not let anyone see them. Many people talked about Doctor Barry’s story, but there was no evidence. Was the woman telling the truth or had she made up the story? No one knew for sure ... until 2009.

Voice 2 

At this time, a South African doctor began researching Doctor Barry. This doctor’s name was Michael du Preez. And he found evidence that Doctor Barry was a woman. Doctor du Preez found letters. Some were written by Margaret Bulkley. And others were written by James Barry. These letters were tested by hand writing experts. And the writing in all the letters was the same. The letters proved that Margaret Bulkley and James Barry were the same person.

Voice 1 

Most history books state that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first female doctor in England. And they state that she became a doctor in 1865. But Doctor du Preez’s research shows that Anderson was not Britain’s first female doctor. Instead, that honour goes to Margaret Bulkley - a poor, young woman from Ireland who secretly achieved that record, over 50 years earlier.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Alan Harris. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes for this program were adapted and voiced by Spotlight.  You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Doctor Barry’s Amazing Secret’.

Voice 1 

If you have a comment or question about any Spotlight program you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. Or you can leave a comment on the script page of the program. You can also find Spotlight on Facebook and Twitter - just search for spotlightradio.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Are there women doctors in your country? If yes, do they receive equal treatment to men doctors? Or are they treated differently?

Comments


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D Nguyen
said on April 26, 2012

Marina Santee, your voice is so sweet!

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Dina
said on April 27, 2012

I agree with D Nguyen - Marina Santee, your voice is realy so sweet!
I have noticed myself that i usually choose a programm with your voice. But actualy i like all speakers! Thank you all. Dina.

humble71's avatar
humble71
said on May 01, 2012

This woman is so wonderful , the most important point for me is that when a person receives a help or finantial support in a young age then he or she can become a better person .. and that woman was a succesful surgeon but it´s incredible that the England Army hid the archives about her and in recent years other person discovered the secret. I can´t accept there are people who give their lives to rescue sick people and then they are forgotten in history . She deserves a memory and a biography in her nature country Ireland. Thanks for producing and researching about this revolutionary woman.
Thanks my Spotlight friends for letting me know more about istory in the world.
Warm hugs form Quito, Ecuador.
Augusto Lenin

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YeeF
said on May 29, 2013

surprising story.. thanks spotlight abd staff
mike procter`s voice is good to me more clear..

 

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eli
said on May 31, 2013

excelente i love this page, the histories are fantastics.

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Haes
said on June 01, 2013

She will be a great woman and commemorated by all the people.

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thanhdung07121985@gmail.com
said on June 01, 2013

I appreciate Dr Barry so much.Her talent,mercy,dedication made a story we have never forgotten.

It is amazing that she was not afraid of disguising herself as a man no one discovered her.

Thanks for program help me widen knowledge about things I never know before!

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QuangTrang
said on August 05, 2014

Margaret Barry is a great woman, great doctor, whole her life for others people but she did not receive aspect from army chief, she worth as a saint but one thing made she is not total perfect, she is hard quickly angry. However I honor her, difficult to find a person can act as her did. Wish she is happy in heaven.

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dunguyenduy
said on August 05, 2014

That’s amazing. This is story as the film I have watched before.

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dunguyenduy
said on August 05, 2014

It is very difficult to find out a woman like her. She was excellent, great man, great doctor.

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Dela
said on August 07, 2014

The amazing, mysterious fate of Margaret Bulkley or James Barry is surprising, incredible, her taking decision to pretend to be a man for all life couldn’t be easy and I suppose she probably suffered from it at least at the beginning. She was resolved firmly to get her dreams to come true in spite of difficulties, she was successful finally to achieve the goal to become a doctor. However, she was forced to be hard to herself because of her secret she could not confide to anybody except only several good friends for many years. Her lifelong effort to rescue the human’s lives just as improve the quality of health care generally is really admirable, James Barry’s life deserves to be never forgotten. Although her secret was uncovered partly after years I assume it will never be explained completely, though.
Thanks for interesting program!

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Sonnguyen
said on August 11, 2014

I don’t know how to say thank you. Barry is unbelievable, she suffered everthing to followed her dream.

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Nawa
said on July 21, 2016

Suffering in life can force us to do many thing that people don’t think it’d be possible. However I understand her. Living our lives, the gender is not the problem but what we do in our lives is the matter and what we do should be useful or can help others. Well, her life let me learn more about what the life is. Thanks Teacher Lisa for letting me know this website. And thanks for the great topic about James Barry or Margaret Bulkley, wonderfu person.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on August 14, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (SeverinoRamos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Sunday 14, August 2016.
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Marina Santee, Mike Procter, Alan Harris, and Luke Haley:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article, Thanks!
Yes, there are many women doctors in my country.
Yes, they receive the equal treatment to men doctors.
For example, at the hospital where I work to there are many women doctors. So, they are very intelligent, polite, elegants and beautiful doctors.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos
Brazil