Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Elizabeth Jane Moffett
1866 –1960

36 Elizabeth Jane Moffett

MB (Lond 1894) MD (Lond 1898) BSc

10 Nov 1866 – 23 Sept 1960 [Birmingham]

In May 1916, Dr Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Surgeon at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, approached all the women on the Medical Register asking them to say if they would be willing to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps. From the replies received, 48 lady doctors were enrolled. The first 22 medical women embarked for Malta on 2 August 1916; another 16 lady doctors embarked on the Hospital Ship (H.S.) Gloucester Castle on 12 August 1916.

The Director General Army Medical Services, Sir Alfred Keogh, was responsible for employing medical women and for dealing with illnesses among them. Women doctors, also referred to as lady doctors, were classed as civilian surgeons attached to the RAMC. Women serving as full time doctors in the Army and doing precisely the same work as their male colleagues had neither military rank nor status, but received the same pay, rations, travelling allowances and gratuity as temporary commissioned male officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. A uniform was not introduced until after April 1918. This was similar in appearance to that worn by the Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC) but with an RAMC badge on both lapels.

In October 1916, on hearing from the War Office that fifty more medical women were needed for service with the RAMC in English hospitals, Aldrich-Blake again negotiated with all the women who had qualified in the preceding ten years, and secured the requisite number in a very short time. On 20 October 1916, eleven medical women embarked on H.S. Britannic for Malta.

The casualties from operations in Gallipoli (25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916), and Salonica (October 1915 – 30 September 1918), were initially treated in Malta and Egypt, but in 1917, submarine attacks on hospital ships made it unsafe to evacuate from Salonica and five General Hospitals, Nos 61, 62, 63, 64 and 65, mobilized in Malta for service in Salonica to which the medical women were attached.

Between August 1916 and July 1917, eighty two lady doctors served in war hospitals in Malta. They worked alongside their RAMC colleagues and carried out all but administrative duties. Their assistance was very highly appreciated. Their work was recognized in the King's Birthday Honours list of June 1918 when Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham MB ChB, Military Hospital Mtarfa, Mrs Katharine Rosebery Drinkwater MB BS, in charge of Military Families Staff and Department Malta and Miss May Thorne MD, in charge of Sisters' Hospital and Staff Department Malta, were awarded the Order of the British Empire for services rendered during the war.

Service Record

Dr Elizabeth Jane Moffett was the second eldest of the large family of a Congregational minister who came from Northern Ireland. Her father held the then advanced view that daughters should have the same educational opportunities as sons. Elizabeth, was thus sent to to a boarding school for the daughters of Congregational ministers. The pioneer school of Milton Mount, Gravesend, was the first school to provide science teaching for girls. In 1885, Dr E. J. Moffett won a scholarship to the recently opened University College of Bangor, where she was converted to Darwinism. In 1889, she won an entrance scholarship to the London School of Medicine for Women, where she had Schafer, Halliburton, and Hector Mackenzie as lecturers. Dr. Moffett noted, we warmed our lotions in pans on an open fire. No nurses in attendance. Nurses were somewhat antagonistic.1

In 1893, Dr E. J. Moffett spent a year at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and graduated MB (London) in the following year. In 1895, she took her first post at Mullingar Asylum, Ireland. She returned to England in 1897 and was House Surgeon at the National Hospital for Women, working under Mrs Scharlieb, Dr Jane Walker and Miss Aldrich-Blake. In 1898, after proceeding MD, she started practice in Kilburn. An uphill trek was how she described it.

Dr Elizabeth Jane Moffett worked for most of her professional life in the school medical service, first in Stafford and then in Birmingham.

In March 1908, she was appointed Assistant Medical Inspectors of school children by the Staffordshire Education Committee. On 28 March 1908, the General (Education) Subcommittee met at Stafford and decided to carry out by 31 December 1908, the medical inspection of school children in each of the three geographical divisions of the administrative county. All children in elementary schools who on 1 January 1908 were not less than five, but not more than six years of age, and who might be recommended by the managers or head teachers on the ground that their health caused serious difficulties with regard to their education were to be inspected. Where the medical inspector found that a child was suffering from some physical disability amenable to treatment, he should issue to the parent such notice as might enable the parent to provide for the necessary treatment.

Dr E. J. Moffett spent five years at Stafford under Sir Graham Balfour, Dr George Reid and Dr Priestley. Margery Fry was on her committee. Dr Moffett made reports on school buildings, defective drainage in a village, and on overcrowding. This sometimes made one unpopular with the managers and landlords. Sometimes one had to stand up to the committee. During the next few years she took an active part in the women's suffrage movement, and at one point her refusal to pay taxes brought the bailiff to her home. In 1913, she transferred to Birmingham.

1911 Attended the seventy-ninth annual meeting of the British Medical Association which discussed tuberculosis in children. Dr E. J. Moffett remarked that some 15 to 20 per cent of school children were found with impaired notes at either the apices or the bases or both lungs. Among those out of school with a family history of phthisis all had impaired notes. They were associated with adenoids and also with rickets, and with bad hygiene and overcrowding. Many so called phthisis cases cleared up when the adenoids were removed. Dr Moffett concluded that local impairment of the percussion note was not always due to tuberculosis, and that in the children it was frequently the late result of rickets which induced imperfect expansion of some parts of the thorax. Some of these children showing impaired notes, who were also thin and delicate, might develop phthisis later.

27 Feb 1913 Attended the clinical and scientific meeting of the British Medical Association (Staffordshire Branch).

July 1916 Contracted to work for 12 months as a Civilian Surgeon attached to the RAMC. Her salary was 24 shillings a day including allowances, but excluding duty transport. A gratuity of £60 was awarded at the end of the contract, provided employment was not terminated for misconduct. Most of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

12 Aug 1916 Embarked from Southampton for Malta on the Hospital Ship (H.S.) Gloucester Castle as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

30 Jan 1917 On duty at Valletta Military Hospital under the command of Lt Col Slaughter RAMC. In the spring of 1917, she co-operated with Temporary/Captain J. Kirk MD (Edin), visiting Ophthalmic Surgeon, in the examination of the fundi of 78 soldiers from Macedonia who were sick with trench nephritis. The patients were chiefly young active soldiers between 20 and 30 years who had been exposed to fairly severe exposure and strain, though not necessarily in the front line. Nearly all presented the disease in a severely acute form, and on their admission were mostly seriously ill. Kirk and Moffett found marked retinal congestion in their optic fundi with exudation near the macular area.2

Attended the funeral of Dr Isobel Addy Tate.

Malta 1918 On duty at Malta. Served at the Valletta Military Hospital.

Malta 11 Feb 1919 Returned to England.

On her return to Birmingham Dr E. J. Moffett undertook spare-time work with the Birmingham Invalid Children's Association, helping particularly with rheumatic and delicate children. She described the school medical service as a specialty, giving it her own flavouring of social work. I had been told, she said, not to trouble myself about the social condition of the children, but I carried on as before. The school service has always been the Cinderella.

1923 Attended the annual meeting of the British Medical Association which discussed rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatism, of which rheumatic carditis was its most serious manifestation, was due to a streptococcal cardiotoxin. The infection was associated with poverty and living in damp dwellings. The main stay treatment was salicylates to control the inflammation and prolonged bed rest to protect the heart from further damage.

Dr E. J. Moffett remarked:

That the type of choreic or rheumatic case met with now certainly seemed to be milder than in the nineties. She found difficulties in diagnosis: a child was anaemic and under weight, and it was often hard to say off hand whether the tuberculous or rheumatic poison was the cause. The Birmingham mothers, in the city of Bright, Chamberlain and Dale, were well up in all the symptoms of rheumatism, and rheumatic pains were just as useful as lumbago and sciatica in the war, especially when they occurred in a girl likely to be useful at home. Such cases were, of course, quite a minority and with clean tongue and normal temperature were better at school. It was, however, sometimes hard to be sure. The true cases were anaemic and had digestive trouble. Noticeable swelling of joints was rare. Treatment in the poorer classes was not satisfactory. Severe cases were admitted to hospital or infirmary.
If not so severe, Dr Moffett advised their own doctor at home or a free dispensary note with home treatment, or rest in bed, and she sent the school nurse to see that treatment was carried out. Later convalescence was given. Much longer periods of continuous treatment were, however, required. Recently the organizer of a very successful Cripples' Union had set out to form a similar society for the care of rheumatic cripples. The education of these children presented difficulties. They were backward from delicacy and prolonged absence from school. When they returned they were worried by their low position in school and tried to catch up, with the result that they often broke down again. They should be taught separately in smaller classes on a modified Dalton plan.
Expense, however, barred the way at present. Dr Moffett had a suspicion that the gap between the curriculum of the infant school and that of the upper school was too wide, and in the attempt to bridge it, choreics were manufactured. She suggested making the transition more gradual, but she said that she was treading on dangerous ground there as she was not an educationist. Many heart cases were very resistant to advice and persisted in working beyond their strength, in spite of repeated warnings.
When examining for the Women's Volunteer Reserve, early in the war, Dr Moffett found a surprising number of organic heart cases among a set of young women of magnificent physique and very capable. Many were leading very strenuous lives with no symptoms and no knowledge of their cardiac trouble. It seemed cruel to enlighten them. She always warned the parent that it was not the heart condition that mattered, but the recurrence of rheumatism, and urged that they should put the child to bed if it were feverish.

23 Nov 1928 Attended the annual dinner of the University of London Medical Graduates Society held in Birmingham, when some 40 graduates were present.

1931 Dr E. J. Moffett retired in 1931, but carried on with ophthalmic work for some years and with social work, mainly among children, as long as she could. A keen and active member of the Medical Women's Federation, she celebrated her eightieth birthday by describing much of her life in a speech at a meeting of the Birmingham and District Medical Women's Association. At 92 she was persuaded to give up her home because of physical infirmity, and she spent her last two years at Bryony House. Although physically infirm, she retained her lively mental facilities until the end.

23 Sept 1960 Dr. Elizabeth J. Moffett died of pneumonia aged 93 years at the Bryony House, Selly Oak, Birmingham. Throughout her long life Dr. Moffett was acutely interested in social problems, especially those concerning the well-being of children, and her zeal for righting wrongs never faltered. She had the gift of speech and with her Irish wit enlivened many a meeting and clinched many an argument with her forthright common sense.