Pioneers: Alice Bloomfield

Born in India, Alice Bloomfield and her family moved back to Britain after the death of her father. With a view to becoming the family breadwinner, Alice enrolled as a medical student at Edinburgh University where she graduated with first class honours in 1919. Her keen mind and academic brilliance made a star in the London medical scene.

She earned several academic prizes and accolades including earned a silver medal in chemistry, the Annandale gold medal for surgery and the William Gibson research fellowship. She took the MD in 1921 and a Masters in Surgery in 1925, as well as higher degrees in medicine and surgery and the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1922.

Alice was a resident at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and at the Hospital for Women in Soho Square. She became consultant surgeon in gynaecology at the South London Hospital for Women at age 28, where she worked for most of her career, and also at the Marie Curie Hospital. She was a deft and speedy surgeon who expected similar surgical efficiency from her colleagues. According to her obituary in the Lancet, Alice was known for being kind and gracious with her patients and junior staff, but ‘somewhat irascible’ with her peers.

Group photograph of members of the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club at the first meeting of the club held in Manchester in 1937. Alice Bloomfield is seated front, second from the left. Beside her is RCOG co-founder William Fletcher Shaw. Also pictured are (from the back, left to right) Frank Lacey, John Bride, Louise McIlroy, Hilda Lloyd and Louisa Martindale.

She was a founder member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and was made Fellow of the College after being nominated by College co-founder Sir William Fletcher Shaw. The first suggestion that Bloomfield be elevated to Fellowship was originally deferred. The Fellowship Selection Committee had chosen to elevate only two of the many candidates they had been given that year (this may have been due to the pressure the College was under to not give the impression that Fellowships were being given away!)

Fletcher Shaw was very disappointed by the result and wrote to Bloomfield in February 1934:

“From what I had heard before I was very surprised at the result but that, of course, was only private gossip. This letter, too, is private as it is nobody’s business to know that I did put up your name, and I will see that it is brought forward again in future.”

She took the rejection with grace and wrote back the following letter:

Alice Bloomfield’s reply to Fletcher Shaw after being notified that she would not be made FROG that year. Bloomfield’s name was put forward again and she was made a Fellow in 1935.

Bloomfield was awarded a Fellowship of the RCOG in 1935. Afterwards she served multiple terms on the RCOG Council from 1942-1944, 1946-1948 and 1951-1953.

During her career, Alice presented papers at the Royal Society of Medicine covering a broad range of subjects including abdominal surgery on the uterus and the aftereffects of the prolonged administration of oestrogen. She was also approached by the Human Fertility Sub-committee in 1944 for her opinion on comparing rates of male and female infertility.

With her commitment to medical excellence and a reputation for being a true renaissance woman, it should come as no surprise that Alice also served as Chair of the Examining Board of the RCOG where she continued to help shape the minds of trainee obstetricians and gynaecologists. She was also an active member of the Women’s Medical Federation and one of the founders of the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club.

After her retirement from medicine, she studied law and was called to the Bar at age 70 at Gray’s Inn, where she practised as a criminal barrister in the south western circuit. She bequeathed £1000 to the RCOG’s general fund in her will.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Annie Smith (nee McCabe) says:

    I worked with Alice Bloomfield as a Theatre Sister. Most people were scared to death of her but I got on very well with her. She was a wonderful woman and everyone stood to attention while she was operating. In her goodbyes to me she informed me that she “Never gave References” but would happily provide one for me if I needed one. I was very proud.

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