Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Portraits to honour legacy of remarkable women written out of medical history

Trailblazers: Dr Barbara Maive Stokes
Trailblazers: Dr Barbara Maive Stokes
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

They were eight women who helped change the face of medicine in Ireland - but who have been largely written out of history.

However, with a new portrait collection on the walls of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin, they are at last getting the recognition they deserve.

Curators of 'Women on Walls' hope seeing portraits of these remarkable women hanging in the RCSI will encourage future generations of women and girls to succeed.

"Each of these women had a profound impact and we want history to remember their legacy," said Professor Cathal Kelly, CEO of the RCSI, at the launch of the new collection.

Among the eight were a nun, a surgeon, a nurse and an epidemiologist.

They worked in Ireland and around the world making advances in their own area of medical expertise while also blazing a trial for women everywhere.

Dr Victoria Coffey
Dr Victoria Coffey

Among the women is Dr Victoria Coffey, one of the first female paediatricians in Ireland, who was appointed as medical officer in charge of children at St Kevin's Hospital in 1943. She later became a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and researched a range of subjects.

Another luminary is Wexford-born Mary Frances Crowley, who trained as a nurse in Britain before returning to Ireland, where she worked in the Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.

Immediately after World War II, she travelled to France as matron of the Irish Red Cross Hospital at Saint-Lô, where the hospital's storekeeper, interpreter and driver was none other than Samuel Beckett.

Dr Margaret 'Pearl' Dunlevy, born in Donegal in 1909, was an epidemiologist whose championing of immunisation helped eradicate tuberculosis in Ireland.

Sr Dr Maura Lynch, who died in 2017, was 17 when she joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary before studying medicine at UCD. She spent much of her life in Africa, where she revolutionised obstetric care in Uganda and Angola.

Dr Emily Winifred Dickson, born in 1866, was the first female Fellow of the RCSI and first gynaecologist at the Richmond Hospital, Dublin. In 1896 she was appointed examiner at the RCSI, another first for women in Ireland.

The first woman to train and qualify at the RCSI was Dr Mary Josephine Hannon, born in Dublin in 1859.

She worked in India and Britain before settling in South Africa. She was a champion of women's rights and a member of the Women's Enfranchisement League and refused to pay taxes that applied to unmarried women but not unmarried men.

Dr Barbara Maive Stokes, who died in 2009, was a paediatrician and pioneering disability campaigner.

Dr Mary Somerville Parker Strangman was the second woman to earn a fellowship of the RCSI in 1902. She was a suffragist and worked to combat tuberculosis.

Irish Independent

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