Wednesday 22 January 2014

Dr Flora Murray (1869 - 1923 - British

Flora was born in 1869.   She trained at the London School of Medicine for Women and finished her studies in Durham.  She then worked in Scotland, returning to London in 1905, where she took a post as a Medical Officer at the Belgrave Hospital for Children.  Following that, Flora accepted a post as anaesthetist at The Chelsea Hospital for Women.

Flora joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908 and was the medical officer to the activists.   She spoke at meetings and rallies, joined marches and provided first aid assistance to the suffragettes at demonstrations.   She campaigned with other doctors against the forcible feeding of prisoners and treated Emmeline Pankhurst and other hunger-striking suffragettes on their release from prison.

Along with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Flora founded the Women’s Hospital for Children in 1912, which provided health care for working class children as well as giving women doctors the chance to work with children.

During the First World War, Flora served in France with the Women’s Hospital Corps in the company of Louisa Garrett Anderson, Elizabeth’s daughter.   As the women’s offers of help were initially turned down by the British, they set up military hospitals for the French Army in Paris and Wimereux. 

Sylvia Pankhurst recalled visiting a hospital run by Flora and her team at Claridge’s Hotel, which had been turned into a temporary military hospital, in Paris in December 1914:

“…we saw her seated far away and small, writing under a shaded lamp. She did not see us till we were close to her;  and then she was so much the pitiful, small-voiced woman who had come to my bed-side in those days of the Cat and Mouse Act* that at first I did not notice she was in khaki, a dull, subdued tone of it, with a narrow, dark red piping:  the uniform she had chosen for ‘the women’s hospital corps’… With her excessive quietude and gentleness, she had overborne many a seemingly cast-iron Army tradition.  In defiance of all precedent, she gave equal treatment to officers and privates, placing them side by side in the same wards. … There was an atmosphere of friendliness and peace…” (“Women’s Writing on the First World War”, pp 54 – 55 from The Home Front” by Sylvia Pankhurst).

Flora never married.  She died in 1923 and is buried at The Holy Trinity Church with her friend and colleague Dr.Louisa Garrett Anderson near their home in Penn, Buckinghamshire.

Sources:  Wikipedia and
Cardinal, Agnes, Goldman, Dorothy and Hattaway, Judith, Eds.- “Women’s Writing on the First World War” (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999).

*The Cat and Mouse Act was the name given to the Prisoners, Temporary Discharge for Health Act which was introduced in 1913 and designed to weaken the Suffragettes.  A suffragette would be arrested and imprisoned. She would go on hunger strike and the authorities would wait until she was too weak to participate in a demonstration when she would be released on licence.   If she committed an offence while she was out on licence, a woman would be re-arrested at once and sent back to prison.

Apparently, the tactic was not very successful and added to the strength of the Suffragette’s arguments.

The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave women who owned property over the age of thirty the right to vote. It was a start.

Photo:  Dr. Flora Murray in uniform by Francis Dodd from