Pioneers: Frances Mabel Huxley

This month’s Pioneer is Frances Mabel Huxley (1884-1969)

Frances Huxley was a Manchester University educated gynaecologist whose work on postural apnoea in Glasgow earned her the MD with gold medal in 1912. She was respected and a brilliant medical student, however her application for a senior resident post at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester caused much deliberation and was ultimately rejected. This was said to be due to the exclusion of female graduates from resident posts at Manchester’s hospitals during the period.

Later Frances held the senior resident appointment at the Samaritan Hospital for Women in London and was appointed physician at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital. She worked as an obstetrician in Glasgow under Dame Louise McIlroy. Like many of her female peers, she held posts as a gynaecological surgeon at the South London Hospital for Women, where she practiced for 21 years, and at the Marie Curie Hospital.

wvgcfirstmeeting
Group photograph of members of the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club at the first meeting of the club held in Manchester in 1937. The photograph features Hilda Lloyd, Margaret Fairlie, Rhoda Adamson, Louise McIlroy, Alice Bloomfield, Amy Fleming, Louisa Martindale, Frances Huxley and possibly Ruth Nicholson. (Credit: the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club papers, RCOG Archive S108, Copyright WVGC)

She was a founder member of the Medical Women’s Federation and served as honorary secretary to the Federation in 1917 and 1918. She was elected president of its London Association in 1928. Frances was a foundation fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists from 1929 and served on its Council from 1937-1941. She was also the sole medical officer of the organising committee of the Hospital for Wives of Officers at Fulmer Chase during the Second World War.

She was the only British medical woman to address the Fifth International New-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in London in 1922 where she spoke on ‘Birth Control from the Point of View of a Woman Gynaecologist.’ Her views on birth control were progressive, especially for the time. She reasoned that married couples were entitled to information on contraception and the best way to plan their families. She argued that ‘it is more unnatural for a husband and wife to live apart than to use contraceptive measures’ and championed the benefits of family planning and maternal and child welfare for people of all social classes.

Frances was remembered by her peers for her kindness and good humour, and was said to be one of the best and most popular students of her year at Manchester. She had two daughters, who also pursued medical careers.

 

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