Lives of the fellows

Ursula Shelley

b.11 April 1906 d.6 December 1993
MB BS Lond(1930) MRCS LRCP(1930) MD(1932) MRCP(1933) FRCP(1948)

Ursula Shelley was born in London, the daughter of Frederick Fairey Shelley, a fellow of the Institute of Chemists, and his wife Rachel (née Hicks), a medical practitioner. Ursula was educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and the London School of Medicine for Women. She won the university gold medal, with distinction in surgery and forensic medicine, and also the Richardson-Kuhlmann prize in senior subjects and the dean’s medal for clinical medicine. She was awarded the Helen Prideaux postgraduate scholarship; she was also awarded the Mabel Webb and A M Bird postgraduate scholarship.

After house physician posts at the Royal Free Hospital and at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children, she was appointed assistant physician at the Princess Louise Hospital for Children, Kensington, from 1937 to 1944 and physician from 1944 to 1971. She was assistant physician in the children’s department of the Royal Free Hospital from 1935 to 1940, and physician from 1940 to 1971, and also physician to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children from 1946 to 1971. In 1950 she became a liveryman of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, one of the first women doctors to achieve this, and later she was made a freeman of the City of London.

Although Ursula Shelley was at the forefront of care for children with cerebral palsy she did not get the recognition she deserved as she did very little research. Although she wrote many articles they tended to be published in paramedical journals rather than the leading medical ones, which limited her influence. For example, an article on the early diagnosis of brain injured children was published in Physiotherapy in 1963. Her interest in children, particularly those with cerebral palsy, brought her into contact with the Bobaths and she encouraged physiotherapists to learn from them. From early days she also encouraged a team approach in the care of handicapped children. The whole child was important to her so she took a great interest in the work of James Robertson on the separation of children from their parents. At one time she was vice-president of the National Association of Nursery Matrons and she took a keen interest in the training of nursery nurses. During her years as a consultant paediatrician, especially in the 1960s, she persuaded several of her registrars and senior registrars, particularly women, to become consultants themselves. Her teaching helped to widen the horizons of her medical students. Her mind was always so active that she spoke very quickly and she had little time for fools.

Ursula was always very well groomed, including having many different coloured frames for her spectacles, so that they always matched her outfits. She did not marry but enjoyed her two homes, one in Hyde Park Gate and the other in Chobham -where she spent the weekends - and was very well looked after by her companion and housekeeper, Miss Harper, for many years. Her interests included gardening and her lion dogs, of which she always had a number. Her years after retirement were marred by a serious road accident and for several years she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

P A Manfield

[Brit.med.J., 1994,308,1368]

(Volume X, page 444)

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