Pioneers: Gertrude Dearnley, FRCOG 1929

This month’s Pioneer’s post looks into the life and career of the illusive Gertrude Dearnley, FRCOG. Dearnley is one of the most challenging women to research in our College’s history. Photographs of her are hard to come by (one of our annual reports gave us a glimpse of only her nose!) But her contributions to medicine and to the field of obstetrics and gynaecology were impressive none the less.

Gertrude Dearnley (1884 – 1982) was educated at Liverpool high School and went on to study at the London School of Medicine for Women, qualifying in 1912. She worked at the Jessop Hospital for Women in Sheffield, the South London Hospital for Women and the Endell Street Military Hospital, which was a First World War military hospital in Endell Street, Covent Garden. This was the only hospital entirely staffed by suffragists and was established in May 1915 by Doctors Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson.

The staff of Endell Street Military Hospital (1916), where Gertrude Dearnley served during the first world war. Credit: London School of Economics.

Early in her career Gertrude’s outstanding skills in obstetrics and gynaecology were soon recognised and she was appointed consultant gynaecological surgeon at the Royal Free and the Marie Curie Hospital and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist to the Welwyn Garden City Cottage Hospital. She was also the first woman to be appointed as a consultant at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital.

Gertrude’s special interest was in fertility and she established a fertility clinic at the Royal Free Hospital in 1937, the first of its kind in London. She was a skilled surgeon and an extremely good teacher and her contributions to the work at the Royal Free hospital were recognised by a ward being named after her.

Dearnley plaque
The plaque dedicated to Dearnley outside The Dearnley Ward at The Royal Free Hospital, London.

Gertrude Dearnley was a Foundation Fellow of the RCOG in 1929 and took a keen interest in the affairs of the College, serving on the Examinations Committee from 1936 to 1937.  She was also present at the admission of HRH Princess Elizabeth to the Honorary Fellowship in 1951.

She was founder a member of the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club and was elected an emeritus member in 1953.  She also served as President of the Royal Society of Medicine’s obstetric and gynaecology section until circa 1956.

She retired from hospital practice in 1951 though remained in private practice for some years thereafter. Her friends described her as an outstanding woman of high intelligence, courage, integrity and charm with a great love of life. In her retirement she enjoyed travelling and visiting friends in Australia and Canada and gardening and painting at her country cottage.

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