Monday, 13 June 2016

Dr Gladys Miall Smith (1888 - 1991) – British doctor

Gladys Miall Smith was born in Highgate, London in 1888.  Her parents were George Augustus Smith, who had a hat making business in the City of London, and his wife Hilda Caroline, nee Miall.  Gladys was the eldest of four children. She had a sister, Dorothy and two brothers, Eric and Arnold.  Sadly both brothers were killed in the First World War. Gladys' mother was on committees in St Pancras and a governor and teacher at North London Collegiate School for Girls.

After her education at North London Collegiate School, in 1907 Gladys and her sister went to Lausanne to live with a Swiss family and improve their French. Gladys went on to study at University College London, where she obtained a First Class Degree in Science.

In 1912 Gladys enrolled to study medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women. As part of her medical experience, she spent 3 months at a Dressing Station in France in 1914.  She qualified in 1916 and worked as House Surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and studied Obstetrics at the Royal Free Hospital. 

On 26th June 1918, Gladys went to work at the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Royaumont Abbey, France, looking after French soldiers who were wounded on the Western Front.  She remained there until January 1919 working with Miss (Dr.) Frances Ivens, the Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer. Gladys was in charge of the fracture ward and assisted in operations and gave anaesthetics. Gladys wrote in her family autobiography that all the staff were female except the male cook who had been chef to the King of Spain.

After the war, Gladys became House Physician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked as Medical Officer of Health for St. Pancras Borough Council in charge of maternity and child welfare.   She met Dr. Hubert John Burgess Fry, a Pathologist who worked on cancer research at the Royal Marsden Hospital.  Dr. Fry, known as John, had been a Captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during the First World War.  They were married in July 1921.  At that time, married women were not permitted to work and Dr. Miall Smith was dismissed from her post. Several women's emancipation groups took up her case but to no avail.

In 1922, Richard Reiss invited Dr. Fry and his wife to Welwyn Garden City which was being built at that time.   They became the City’s first doctors.   John Fry died in 1930 from an infection contracted from his research work. This was before antibiotics and he could not be saved. Gladys was left with three small children.   By then she was in charge of maternity and child welfare at Welwyn Garden City but had to resume her practice as a G.P.   After her retirement, Gladys travelled extensively as a locum doctor and spent nearly two years in Ghana working in a maternity hospital.  She also worked at a hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where her job involved driving a jeep to outlying places.

Dr. Gladys Miall Smith died in 1991 at the age of 102. 

Photographs supplied by Dr. Maill Smith's daughter: Dr. Miall Smith in her WW1 uniform and at Royaument Abbey Hospital in France.


Information kindly supplied by Gladys’s daughter Ann Fox with additional information from “Angels of Mercy:  A Women’s Hospital on the Western Front 1914-1918” by Eileen Crofton (Birlinn, 2013) – by kind permission of Birlinn Limited.

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