Vilma Hugonnai, the first female Hungarian doctor, was born to a noble family on 30 September 1847. She was self-taught and learned the basics of patient care and healing before studying at university in Zurich, with the permission of her husband and father, but without their financial support. She financed her university studies by selling her family jewellery. Her determination paid off: she received her degree and was granted the title of doctor in 1879. Although the Swiss wanted her to remain in Switzerland and offered her a position there, she decided to return to Hungary. The Hungarian medical committee would have allowed her degree to be recognised, but the prevailing political system prevented this. She then trained as a midwife in Hungary and was subsequently able to practice medicine semi-legally, often without pay. Hugonnai placed great emphasis on preventive healthcare and gave lectures on this subject for the poorer classes. She worked for women’s rights and wrote a study on work and family life, as well as the importance of educating girls. In 1895, it finally became possible for women to attend university studies in medicine, liberal arts and pharmacology, and for foreign degrees to be recognised in Hungary. Hugonnai passed her professional examinations in Hungary in 1897 and received her degree as a medical doctor in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph. During the First World War, she trained as a military surgeon at the age of 65. She was not sent to the front lines, but organised patient observation centres in 14 rural cities. In 1915, she was honoured with an award for her work in military healthcare matters.
Vilma Hugonnai died in 1922. With her exemplary work as a doctor and thanks to her efforts to promote women’s rights, women enjoyed greater opportunities to work, study and even receive university degrees.