Miss D.J. Collier

Josephine in 1943 in Oxford at the home of the Trueta family. Photograph kindly provided by the family, today back in Catalonia.

Dr. Josephine Collier, M.B., F.R.C.S. 39, (1894-1972) was a distinguished aural surgeon, being Consultant Surgeon to the Ear, Nose and Throat departments of the Royal Free and South London Hospitals, an adventurous traveller, active in helping refugees from the Spanish civil war and aside from her medical publications, author of “The Catholic Doctor in Catalonia” and, we believe, early in her career the author of “The Girl in Industry”, a pioneering look at the working conditions for girls. One of the many distinguished medical women at the dinner, herself on the rise at this time. Her Spanish adventures were, at the time of the dinner, still to come.

There were other Miss D.J. Colliers, at that time, and Dorothy Josephine Colliers to boot, but none who fit the bill so well. I suspect the Catholicism of Josephine and Florence Barry is not a pure coincidence.


A table of four allows all to participate in the same conversation: if we have the right four the topics of conversation may have ranged from the role of women in the workplace, Josephine having researched the subject, Hilda Ewart being a manager herself, Thomas Cole very involved in managing people I would assume, and Florence Barry the networker.


Perhaps thinking about the formation of the Anti-Noise league which was already in the making? Perhaps there were a number of other medical specialists at the dinner she was keen to meet. Perhaps a tricky operation during the day. Perhaps also watching the unfolding events on the continent with concern.


Born in Liverpool on 5th March 1894 (baptized 8th March), the fourth of five sisters, to Agnes Collier née Mullins (1859/61 – 28.3.1939) and the Wolverhampton-born timber merchant, John Collier, Dorothy (the name entered in the school records) was educated at the Convent of Notre Dame, Southport (alongside her younger sister Isabel).

Josephine’s sister Isabella

In 1918 a thorough study by one Miss D.J. Collier, entitled The Girl in Industry, was a pioneering look at the working conditions for girls, with a focus on the industrial Midlands and North East England, researched during WW1, 1916 -18. It is prefaced by one B.L.Hutchins, or Elizabeth Leigh Hutchins, a pioneer in such social investigation, who herself had written and researched a great deal on factory conditions, working at times with Beatrice Webb. This is not at first sight a piece of work by a budding medic (Josephine would have been 22-24 at the time) but is indeed by a Dorothy Josephine Collier, perhaps something of a socially minded student at Oxford, born and bred in Liverpool, might have undertaken, cutting her teeth in good empirical work, under some good supervision, before going on to Oxford University and to University College Hospital, from where she graduated in medicine in 1922. It would have marked her out early on as someone to watch and with whom to work. The author is also identified as Dorothy Josephine so it looks very likely it is the same person but total confirmation still needs to be found. However being guided by B.L. Hutchins may explain the maturity of the work for a youngish student.[1]


puzzle-piece2-50 can we find conclusive proof this is the one and same Dorothy Josephine Collier?

She was a pioneer at Oxford, as The Vote reported on 20th December 1918:

We offer our congratulations to Miss D.J. Collier on being the first woman to pass the first B.M. examination of the University of Oxford, an examination which was opened to women last year. Miss Collier is a member of the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society.

Josephine was also a networker: in 1927 she was a founder member of the Junior Council of the Executive Committee of the London and National Society for Women’s Service, under the presidency of Dame Millicent Fawcett, until she stepped down from the Committee in 1934. At least eight other dinner guests were also members of the Society: Theodora Bosanquet, Winifred Cullis, Myra Curtis, the Hon. Mrs. Franklin, Cicely Hamilton, Laura Wallis Mills, Hélène Reynard, and Lady Rhondda.  Also members of the Society were The Lady Camrose (not at the dinner but wife of dinner speaker Lord Camrose), possibly the Mrs. Crosfield, and Mrs. G.F Watts of Table 23.

At the time of the dinner (aged 39), Dorothy’s career was well underway, having taken the F.R.C.S. in 1932, and perhaps was by then a member of the Medical Women’s Federation (she served on its Council). In 1931 she had moved from 101-102 Addison House, Grove End Road NW8 to 25 Blenheim Road, NW8, (pictured below) where she lived for the rest of her life, another 42 years. In 1939 also living in her house, it would seem, two people from Spain, Gasper Alcovera, a married Jeweller, and Francesca Pecha, a cook, as well as a secretary/chauffeur, Olivia M Cape, and a parlour maid, Magdalena Gallman.


From 1931 our aural surgeon was also leading the campaign to reduce noise, setting up a Noise Abatement Association in Oxford. The two outstanding noises were “the unsilenced use of the motor car and bicycle and the reckless use of the motor horn”.[2]


Later in 1933 Josephine was giving her support to the relatively newly formed Anti-Noise League, and through the British Medical Journal she and her colleagues called “upon all doctors through the length and breadth of the land to make themselves propagandists in the furtherance of this urgent and most necessary reform” otherwise “the misery of this removable social irritant will continue to grow”.[3] Campaigners were hoping to convince the citizen that “making needless noise was a form of bad manners”.[4]

During the Spanish Civil War Josephine received refugees from Spain and was instrumental in bringing Prof. Joseph Trueta and his family from Barcelona – known as the man who revolutionised war surgery by encasing wounds in plaster and letting nature do the rest – as opposed to endless reapplication of bandages – as he had none to apply.[5] [6] In 1937 she visited Barcelona (she had a good knowledge of Spanish), writing in 1938 of her experiences as “A Catholic Doctor in Catalonia” in the Catholic publication, The Tablet.[7] [8] She mainly writes about the ability of Catholics to worship (being an article for The Tablet) but she also adds her own comments on what she observes:

“We had planned a holiday in the Dordogne country where Romanesque churches and their symbolic sculpture can be studied in small quiet towns with the added delight of the good food that abounds in these parts. We talked of pate and the stunted oak whose deficiency disease produces the delectable truffle. Our passage was booked on the Autocarrier and the A.A. had worked out the route. Then my companion was asked by the International Commission for the Assistance of Child Refugees to supervise the feeding of twenty thousand children in the territory of Republican Spain. We both knew something of Spain and I had been there as recently as April 1936 on a pilgrimage in homage to El Greco. It seemed a proper expression of gratitude to return now on a mission of charity, and as a Catholic and a doctor perhaps one could learn something of the religious situation and of social conditions. Anxiety about air-raids and possible damage to the car faded after it had received the blessing proper to an automobile, which incidentally refers to the faith and grace granted to the Ethiopian in his chariot. We were able to enjoy the Romanesque glories of Souillac and Cahors on our way to the Spanish frontier at La Jonquera. Here a new tourist office had been built since my last visit, and our luggage and passports were examined beneath posters exhorting us in English, French and Spanish, to visit Spain “where the sun shines and life is always gay.” It all struck me as rather casual and during nearly three weeks with Barcelona as headquarters I went, without any guide or officials, freely about Catalonia.

“The work of the International Commission took us to colonies in the country, particularly in the province of Gerona. Here we found communities of nuns actively and happily engaged in the care of the refugees and earning the unstinted praise of the local Alcade and the public assistance officials.

“Montserrat, the sacred mountain of the Catalans, with its famous Benedictine monastery and its statue of Our Lady, blackened by age, excites the interest of all who have seen its stark serrations, and it was with considerable excitement that I went there again one Sunday afternoon. I knew that the monastery and the neighbouring hotels had been turned into a military convalescent hospital. Within, we found a Catalan policeman who asked us to wait as a party of school children from Manresa was being shown the church. He told us he and his colleagues were there to protect the artistic patrimony as he said, confidingly, ” Soldiers who come from different parts of the country have all kinds of fathers and mothers and might not realize the value of the monastery in the national life.” In the church and sacristies everything is carefully preserved in its accustomed place ready for the return of the Benedictine monks, who were protected by the Catalan Government when a mob of wreckers climbed up to Montserrat to attack the monastery in July, 1936.

“I found many impressive and moving sights during my stay in Catalonia. Half-starved children with rickets, in a slum canteen being fed and cared for by older brothers and sisters who received no breakfast because the canteen was only for children under five; patients in the hospitals with limbs wasted from the ravages of gas gangrene following air-raid injuries; the thin middle-aged women carrying their canvas bags through the street; young women, who despite the lack of soap, had trim white collars and well kept clothes. The dearth of political posters now—indeed the chief posters I saw advertised “The Taming of the Shrew,” which crowded the theatre.

druetaJosephine’s role in shepherding him and his family is told in Dr Trueta’s memoir “Trueta: Surgeon in War and Peace”, which I can retell here:[9]

In 1939 Josephine and Dr Audrey Russell, a paediatrician working with the International Commission for the Assistance of Child Refugees visited Dr Trueta in his hospital (I wonder if it was Dr Russell who had accompanied Josephine on her earlier holiday).

“They arrived together in a car bulging with medical equipment to help the Republicans. These women belonged to an interesting and certainly overlooked sector – English Catholics who remained faithful to the Republican cause, principally because of their sympathy towards Catalina and the Basque country. They wanted to see the patients and to know what I would do if there were a world war. They were very charming and when they left it was as if I were taking leave of friends of long standing”.

Which explains why Josephine went to a lot of trouble to relate how Catholics were getting on under revolution. Josephine and Audrey then later re-met him at the Hotel de la Paix, Perpignan[10] to where he had managed to walk with many refugees over the border into France. He himself had only just re-joined his wife and three daughters who had already been in France. Josephine arranged for him and his wife to go to London for a visit to meet with the medical profession. They took the train to Calais, via Paris and at Dover with the help of an officer she was able to get them swiftly through customs (crowded with refugees and others) and then to London. The British were seeking his advice as to how to run a hospital service should and when aerial bombing come to London, as well as how to treat war wounds. Josephine made various key introductions to the medical profession. Eventually his daughters (who had been in France in the care of a committee for Spanish refugees) joined him and his wife London and by August 1939 Josephine had found him a home in Oxford.

He also records that he had been invited to speak at the opening of the Catalan Club. Josephine urged him not to, for fear that this would be seen as a political gesture and compromising his position as a surgeon. Pressured on both sides he did speak and fortunately his relations with the Foreign Office did not suffer.

Of her death in 1972 Dr Trueta wrote “it was she who introduced me to British life; a firm friend always, we felt her death closely”. Family members, who continue to play a major role in Catalan politics, still recall her memory with affection.

Josephine at the Trueta home in Oxford

In 1938 she was Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons, a year when she was also leading appeals by doctors for help to meet food shortages in Spain. She was also active during World War Two, in Italy. The proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine report on her many lectures and writings: on facial paralysis in 1949 and in 1950;[11] [12] and on 5th November 1954, Dr Josephine Collier, President of the Ontology Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, delivered her Presidential Address on The Art of Otology.[13]


The long and distinguished life and career of Dorothy Josephine Collier, B.M, B.CH, F.R.C.S is well covered in her obituaries in the BMJ[14] and in The Lancet[15]. “Hemifacial paralysis as a sequel to mastoidectomy, [i.e. surgery to treat ear infections] not uncommon at the time, was her particular interest and she achieved considerable success with reparative surgery as well as the devices she made for her patients.” In 1952 she was joint author of Diseases of the Ear, Nose and Throat.[16]

Travel (including a trip up the Orinoco in a small boat), gardening (with a beautiful greenhouse) and entertaining her friends were amongst her leisure pursuits. Josephine died on 2nd February 1972, at 25 Blenheim Road, St. John’s Wood, London NW8, where she had been living for more than 40 years.


[1] The Girl in Industry 1918. She would have been then 24. A digital book is available http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46104/46104-h/46104-h.htm

[2] The Anti-Noise Conference, The Observer, 15.7.1934 p19

[3] Beckles Willson, Horder, D. J. Collier, J. Purves-Stewart and Dan McKenzie The Anti-Noise League The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 3799 (28.10.1933), pp797-798

[4] The Anti-Noise Conference, The Observer, 15.7.1934 p19

[5] See also a reference to the memoir Josep Treuta, Surgeon in War and Peace, Gollancz, London 1980 on Josephine bringing medical supplies by car to Barcelona, in Angela Jackson, British Women and the Spanish Civil War, Routledge,2.9.2003, Note 12 on p269

[6] Lancashire Evening Post, 4.6.1943 p4

[7] D.J.Collier, A Catholic Doctor in Catalonia: Impressions of a Visit to Barcelona, The Tablet, Vol. 572, No. 5136, 15.10.1936 subscription only publication

[8] Food shortage in Spain, appeal by Doctors, Liverpool Daily Post, 8.1.1939, p7 accessed by subscription 19.1.2018

[9] Josep Trueta, trans Amelia and Michael Strubell, “Trueta: Surgeon in War and Peace”, Gollancz 1980

[10] The hotel is hard to trace though there was and is a Café de la Paix in Perpignan.

[11] The British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4630 (1.10.1949), pp765-766

[12] Symposium: The Treatment of Facial Paralysis, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 12.4.1950.

[13] The Art of Otology, President’s Address, Josephine Collier, F.R.C.S. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Vol 48 253 1954

[14] Josephine Collier, B.M., B.CH., F.R.C.S., British Medical Journal, 26.2.1972, p574

[15] Dorothy Josephine Collier, The Lancet, 26.2.1972 p500

[16] Maxwell Ellis, (ed) 1954, Modern Trends Diseases of the Ear, Nose and Throat, Elsevier Ltd.

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