Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Isabella Stenhouse
1887 –1983

25 Isabella Stenhouse

MB ChB (Ed 1913)

30 July 1887 – 7 Aug 1983 [London]

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

I Stenhouse
Dr Isabella Stenhouse in Egypt 1918–1919. (Courtesy K. Kirkwood)

1913 Resident at 9 Johns Place Leith Edinburgh. Obtained her medical education at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women from where she qualified in 1913. Won the Dorothy Gilfillan prize of £11 7s 6d awarded to the most distinguished woman MB ChB in the final examination.

House Surgeon at Liverpool Royal Infirmary.

Apr 1915 Surgeon with the French Red Cross at the Anglo–Ethiopian Hospital Frévent and at the Voluntary Hospital Bénévole St Valéry sur Somme. The latter hospital had 63 beds and was open from 19 December 1914 to 29 September 1915. Following its closure, Dr Stenhouse returned to Edinburgh and took up a post as a Demonstrator in Anatomy.

Isabella Stenhouse
Staff of St Ignatius Hospital 1916–1917
Front row: VADs StJAA and BRC
Second row: Sisters QAIMNS(R), MO RAMC, Matron TFNS, O/IC RAMC Major, Maltese Civil Surgeon StJAA, Staff Nurse
Third row: RAMC Sgts, Staff Nurse, Dr Stenhouse, Maltese Civil Surgeon StJAA, lady doctor, Staff Nurse StJAA.
(Courtesy K. Kirkwood)

24 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.

Worked in Malta in St Ignatius College Hospital Sliema.

Sep 1917 On duty at St Ignatius College Hospital.

4 May 1918 – 7 May 1919 On duty in Alexandra Egypt.

4 May 1919 Returned to England (injured while off duty). Dr Stenhouse fractured her arm when she fell off a horse in Egypt. Was granted 6 weeks sick leave from her date of embarkation up to 7 May 1919.

14 Oct 1919 Married Captain Hubert S. Lane MC the London Irish Rifles at St Giles' Cathedral Edinburgh. The Very Rev A. Wallace Williamson DD Dean of the Thistle and Chapel Royal officiated.

1923 Listed in the Medical Directory as residing at 32 Eldon Place Newcastle-on-Tyne. She was a member of the British Medical Association, Member of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and a member of the Medical Women Federation. Had been Medical Officer for the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar working in their Mother and Child Welfare Centres. Was also Clinical Assistant in the Medical Out Patients of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital.

7 August 1983 Died in West Kensington London aged 95 years.