Lives of the fellows

Isabel Grace Hood Wilson

b.16 September 1895 d.8 December 1982
CBE(1961) MB ChB Edin(1921) DPM(1924) MD(1926) MRCP(1937) FRCP(1947)

Isabel Wilson was born in Lasswade, Scotland, the daughter of George Robert Wilson, who was a physician and psychiatrist. Her mother was Susan Charlotte Sandeman, the daughter of Frederick Stewart Sandeman, a clergyman. She was educated at a small school with only about ten other children and by governesses, and went to Edinburgh University, qualifying in 1921. After various house physician posts, including some at the Children’s Hospital, Myrtle Street, Liverpool, she became assistant medical officer in 1922 to Severalls Mental Hospital, Colchester, where she remained until 1926, and then became pathologist on the psychiatric staff of the Tavistock Clinic until 1930. At various times and for different periods, to gain experience, she did locums or part-time work at Bethlem Royal Hospital, the Lady Chichester Hospital, the Prince of Wales Hospital, Tottenham, and Bowden House, Harrow.

In 1931, having by now acquired a wide and varied knowledge of psychiatry, she became a commissioner of the Board of Control, which post she held from 1931 to 1948, becoming a senior commissioner from 1949 to 1960, after which time the Board was abolished and her post was called that of principal medical officer, Ministry of Health. She was a member of the panel of medical members of the North West Metropolitan Mental Health Appeals Tribunal from July 1961.

She wrote sparingly, and her work included Home from Work, a physiology for children, (1931); Psychology for Nurses (1934); A Study of Hypoglycaemic Shock Treatment in Schizophrenia (1936); Cardiazol Treatment in Schizophrenia (1938), and Mental Deficiency: What it Means (1954), the last three published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Her colleagues recognized her distinction by making her president of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association in 1962-1963. She was also a member of the executive committee of the Mental Health Research Fund in 1961, an associate of the World Federation for Mental Health, and an associate of the College of General Practitioners.

Isabel Wilson was a quiet but clearcut and decisive personality. She was an active and devout member of the Society of Friends, to which she had been converted fairly early in life and which meant a great deal to her. Her professionalism was immaculate - she was kind, generous, but highly principled, and never lost sight of what she felt were the purpose and duties of psychiatry. She had a nice sense of humour and was very good company. Her main hobby was painting, especially in watercolours, and she was a member of the Medical Art Society, the Ridley Art Club, and the club of the Royal Watercolour Society. As one might expect, her watercolours were gentle in colour, highly accomplished, and most pleasant to look upon.

She was a good friend, and those who had the privilege of her friendship valued it very much. Her life was deeply imbued with her religious beliefs and she could be serious-minded and conscientious, but the fun was never far below the surface and kept peeping out.

Her contribution to psychiatry as a commissioner and later a senior commissioner of the Board of Control was very great, and as principal medical officer to the then Ministry of Health she contributed a great deal to her non-psychiatric as well as to her psychiatric colleagues. She was a dear and most lovable person, and when she retired she went on coming to College functions for a considerable time, but in the end a stroke prevented her from doing so.

Dame Albertine Winner

[Bull. Roy. Coll. Psychiatrists, May 1983, 7, 98]

(Volume VII, page 611)

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