Miss L. Martindale C.B.E.

Dr Louisa Martindale; Credit: Mill View Hospital, Brighton

Dr Louisa Martindale, 60, (1872-1966) was a surgeon, a pioneer of radium therapy, a feminist, a suffragist and the partner of Ismay Fitzgerald, also on this table. Inspired by her mother, also Louisa Martindale – this is in part the tale of two Louisas – she championed women in the medical profession at home and overseas and worked to open women’s hospitals. Louisa was the first woman G.P. in Brighton and the second woman to serve on the Council of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Lady Rhondda was the Hon. Treasurer and supporter of the hospital Louisa set up in Brighton.


My proposed circle of Ismay, Franklin, Whyte, Martindale, Sloan-Chesser and Moir would have seen her in conversation with the PNEU education leader and another medical specialist. I wonder who organised this remarkable table: Louisa “Lulu” or “Netta” Franklin are perhaps the likeliest people.


From what we have learned she might have been thinking of the progress of some patients. Having stepped down as President of the Medical Women’s Federation in 1932 perhaps she was looking for other opportunities or not. We are not sure if the 1933 RCOG invitation has come yet.


Louisa was born in Leytonstone on 30th October 1872 to Louisa Martindale née Spicer (1840 – 1914) and William Martindale, colour and railway grease manufacturer and merchant, of Gainsboro’ Lodge, Leytonstone (1828 – 1874). Her mother Louisa Spicer, from a family of committed Congregationalists, was William’s second wife. William died on 25th September 1875, 6 months before our Louisa’s sister Hilda was born (Louisa was almost 3). Louisa Spicer’s nephew was the publisher Stanley Unwin, his family being printers. Her Spicer family founded the well-known paper company.

In 1881 Louisa, her widowed mother and her younger sister Hilda, were living with George Unwin (brother-in-law of her mother) and his nine Walthamstow-born children at St. Martha’s Printing Works, Shalford, Surrey, which they had set up there in 1871 when the Unwins moved out of London. Shalford, just south of Guildford, was very small then, mainly it seems a place where gunpowder had been made since the late 17th century and built up since 1900. A local history site reports that the Unwins “set up works near the gunpowder site…. Their workers lodged with the locals and became part of the village scene. The director George Unwin was a philanthropic gentleman who ran science and art classes for the workers in the Gresham (or Greshambury) Institute. A disastrous fire in 1895 totally destroyed the works, and the company moved to Woking.[1] Whilst the Martindales had moved to Brighton by 1891 (and avoided the fire!) perhaps Louisa gained her early taste of science with George?

It is reported that they moved from Lewes to Brighton, which means they would have been in Lewes sometime between 1881 and 1891. In Brighton Louisa and her sister Hilda attended Brighton High School, part of the Girls Public Day School Trust. They lived at 40 Stanford Road in 1891 and in a parallel road at 2, Lancaster Road, in the Preston district of Brighton, at the time when she attended the Royal Holloway College in Egham. She later entered the London School of Medicine for Women, gaining her M.B (LOND.) in 1899 and her B.S (LOND.) shortly afterwards.

In 1900 Louisa began work as an assistant to Dr Mary Murdoch, suffragist and the first female house physician at the Victoria Hospital for Children in Hull – and from 1896 the first woman to practise medicine in Hull. They worked closely in private practice together, doubtless great training for Louisa later in Brighton. In 1902 they went on a cycling holiday together visiting Vienna, Berlin and Switzerland. Louisa devoted a chapter of her autobiography to her association with Murdoch (or Murdie as she was known to her friends).[2]

A long trip around the world with her mother and sister followed when Louisa studied at first hand hospitals in India, Australia, New Zealand, Honolulu and the USA.[3]

Gaining her M.D in London in 1906, Louisa returned to Brighton to practice at 10 Marlborough Place, Brighton, near the Pavilion – Brighton’s first female G.P. . She was appointed Doctor to the Brighton High School and for Roedean School and was invited personally to become physician to the Misses Lawrence. In 1907 she joined the Visiting Medical Officer staff at the Lewes Road Dispensary for Women and Children – her mother was one of the founders of the dispensary.

In 1911 the Dispensary (today the Lady Chichester Hospital and Dispensary) moved to 4-8 Ditchling Road and included a small Medical and Surgical Hospital. Later this was renamed the New Sussex Hospital for Women and moved to Windlesham House, Windlesham Road, Hove in 1921 where Louisa became Senior Surgeon and Physician.

In 1915 she served as a locum doctor for a short time at the Scottish Women’s Hospital at the Abbey of Royaumont in France. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were founded by subscriptions raised initially by Dr Elsie Inglis with the help of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Their offer of its services to the War Office was declined. Louisa wrote “Unlike Great Britain our allies accepted our offer and within a short time hospitals manned by women physicians and surgeons were opened in Calais, Royaumont, Serbia, Troyes, Salonika, Corsica, Ostrovo, Vranja, Russia and Sallanches.”[4]

Back in 1891 her widowed mother Mrs Louisa Martindale née Spicer had been a founding member of a branch of the Women’s Liberal Association in Brighton and later the Women’s Cooperative Guild, the Central National Society, the Union of Practical Suffragists within the Women’s Liberal Federation and was on the executive committee of the WFL.

Christopher Spicer, Louisa’s great nephew and a relation of the Mason  family of Table 3, has written to us that Louisa’s mother Louisa Spicer “was the elder sister of my Great Grandfather, Sir Evan Spicer (a Governor of Royal Holloway College) who was the Liberal Chairman of the old London County Council. Louisa, well into her 80s, was an intellectual person who also would have shared the women’s views of Lady Rhondda.”[5] In our own archives we have a letter where my grandfather Rev. J.T. Rhys is being invited to preach at the Royal Holloway College on the recommendation of Sir Evan Spicer – another link emerges across the dinner tables!

Dr Louisa M (daughter) was a member of the Brighton Suffrage Society Committee in 1909.[6] A suffragist and a friend of Millicent Fawcett, her most controversial book Under the Surface (1909), which Millicent had encouraged her to write, caused a stir in the Commons due to the focus on the links between prostitution and venereal disease. In 1912 she inspired a sketch “What became of Betty Martindale”, by her friend Elizabeth Robins, centred on soldiers returning home on board a ship.[7]

In 1925 she and Lady Rhondda and Florence Barry (Table 2), met with Alice Paul, the American suffragist, conferring with English members of the newly formed International Advisory Committee of the National Woman’s Party – an American Woman’s Club – in London: pictured below:

National Womans Party
London News Agency Photos. Source: The Library of Congress, United States.

Seated at the far left is Alice Paul conferring. Left to Right – Seated – Alice Paul, Elizabeth Robins, Viscountess Rhondda, Dr. Louisa Martindale, Mrs. Virginia Crawford, Dorothy Evans – Standing – Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence, Alison Neilans, Florence Underwood, Miss Barry.

Louisa’s interest in the use of radiotherapy in gynaecology began on a trip to Freiburg in Germany in 1913 where she observed the procedure. Afterwards, she invested in a 200,000 volt x-ray apparatus for her own practice in Brighton where she became one of the first doctors in Britain to use deep x-ray therapy in cases of fibroid uterus and breast cancer. In 1924 she attended a meeting of representatives from hospitals staffed by women, which led to the formation of a Committee to study radiotherapy. This eventually led to the establishment in 1929 of the Marie Curie Hospital, where Martindale worked as honorary surgeon.

Her work at the New Sussex Hospital specialised in this treatment. She moved her practice to 11, Adelaide Crescent in Hove in 1919 but in 1921 sold up and moved to London, although remaining Senior Surgeon at the New Sussex Hospital. She was Brighton’s first female Justice of the Peace, (as which she continued to serve), a prison commissioner at Lewes Prison, and governor of Portslade Industrial School.

Her 1922 book The Woman Doctor and her Future explored the role of woman in medicine from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century. She wrote: “We cannot doubt that the Woman Doctor of the future will give to the scientific world gifts of value we cannot yet measure, a service to humanity illimitable in its fearlessness and devotion.”

The President of the Medical Women’s Federation (1930-32) Credit: Wellcome Collection[9]
In 1931, as President of the Medical Women’s Federation (1930-32) she petitioned the House of Lords and House of Commons to ensure the British Postgraduate Medical School admitted women on equal grounds to men. She served as the only woman on the School’s governing board until joined by Dame Barrie Lambert and Professor Hilda Lloyd.[8]

With the World Medical Association and the Medical Women’s International Federation Louisa travelled and lectured on the treatment of cancer with radiation. In 1931 she was awarded the C.B.E..


Now age 60 Louisa was clearly grande dame of her profession (my phrase). In 1933 she was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians (RCOG).

Council of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, taken in College House, Queen Anne Street in 1934. Louisa Martindale, the only woman on Council that year, is in the front row. The photograph also features College President, Dr J S Fairbairn and also the Mace-Bearer, J Loseby.[10]
Also in 1933, her sister Hilda, who became was one of Britain’s first female factory inspectors, joined the Treasury in 1933 and became one of the first women to reach the higher levels of the Civil Service – alongside Myra Curtis, Table 7, our other high flying civil servant.

In 1936 Louisa became only the second woman to serve on the RCOG Council, having been co-opted in that year.[11] [12] [13]

Overall Louisa performed more than 7,000 surgeries, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology. As a pioneer of radium treatment for cervical and ovarian cancer in Britain, she treated 300 women suffering from the latter.

In 1939 Louisa and Ismay were living at Little Rystwood, Uckfield, with her younger sister Hilda (1875 – 1952). Known as ‘Lulu’ to those closest to her, Louisa was very attentive to her patients and popular with them as a result. On her resignation from the New Sussex Hospital in 1937, she invited every patient she had performed major operations on to a farewell party where she hired a conjuror to entertain them. She continued to practise medicine in London until 1947.[14] Her autobiography, A Woman Surgeon, includes a chapter devoted to Ismay.[15]

Louisa travelled extensively and loved animals, especially her Pekingese dogs. She developed glaucoma in her later years, which eventually claimed her sight. She died on 5th February 1966 at 14 Avenue Lodge, Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood.[16]


[1] Exploring Surrey’s Past

[2] Katharine Cockin, ‘Murdoch, Mary Charlotte (1864–1916)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2005 accessed 2.2.2019

[3] Louisa Martindale, Women of Brighton, accessed 2.2.2019

[4] Quoted in Louisa Martindale, Women of Brighton, accessed 2.2.2019

[5] Thank you to Christopher Spicer for adding that new twist to the network at the dinner.

[6] See references in Elizabeth Crawford, under Lewisham: The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928

[7] Angela V. John, Elizabeth Robins: Staging a Life, Routledge, 1862 – 1952, p253

[8] RCOG Blog, Pioneers: Louisa Martindale (1873-1966) FRCOG 1933, posted 8.6.2017 accessed 2.2.2019 https://rcogheritage.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/pioneers-louisa-martindale-1873-1966-frcog-1933/

[9] Wellcome Collection  creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

[10] Photography with permission of RCOG Archive reference RCOG/PH6/1A.

[11] RCOG Blog, Pioneers: Louisa Martindale (1873-1966) FRCOG 1933, posted 8.6.2017 accessed 2.2.2019 https://rcogheritage.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/pioneers-louisa-martindale-1873-1966-frcog-1933/

[12] Emily Hamer (1999), Keeping their fingers on the pulse: lesbian doctors in Britain 1890 – 1950, Chapter 7 in Themes in Sexuality, Franz Eder, Gert Hekma, Lesley A. Hall (eds), Manchester University Press, 1999, page 142, accessed online 11.1.2018

[13] Pioneering woman surgeon, Dr Louisa Martindale, 1872 – 1966

[14] RCOG Blog, Pioneers: Louisa Martindale (1873-1966) FRCOG 1933, posted 8.6.2017 accessed 2.2.2019

[15] Louisa Martindale (1951), A Woman Surgeon

[16] RCOG Blog, Pioneers: Louisa Martindale (1873-1966) FRCOG 1933, posted 8.6.2017 accessed 2.2.2019

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