Lives of the fellows

Catherine Chisholm

b.2 January 1878 d.21 July 1952
CBE(1935) BA Manch(1898) MB ChB Manch(1904) MD Manch(1912) *FRCP(1949)

Catherine Chisholm, who is remembered as the founder of the Babies’ Hospital in Manchester, was born at Radcliffe, Lancashire, to Kenneth Mackenzie Chisholm, a general practitioner, and his wife, née Mary Thornley. She was educated privately before entering the Owens College Medical School, Manchester. Following resident appointments at the Clapham Maternity Hospital, Manchester, and the Eldwick Sanatorium at Bingley in Yorkshire, she entered general practice in 1906, but from 1908 successive appointments led steadily to her main interest which was the loving care of children, shown in her statement in her later years : I’m a spinster with 10,000 babies’.

She was medical officer to the Manchester High School for Girls and honorary physician to the Chorlton-on-Medlock Dispensary, 1908-19, honorary physician for children at the Northern Hospital, Manchester, and consultant to the Hope Hospital, Salford, 1914-36, and consultant to the Babies’ Hospital, 1914-50. At the University she was medical officer to the Women Training Students Department of Education, 1918-47, and lecturer on vaccination and on the diseases of children, 1923-49.

Like many with her puritanical family background, she developed an independence of mind and a pioneering spirit. A strong feminist, she was the first woman undergraduate and graduate and the first woman member of the faculty of medicine at the University of Manchester. She was a founder member of the local branch of the Medical Women’s Federation, and later its president, and president of its national body in London, and the persistent advocate for the chair in child health at Manchester, which was founded in 1947.

Her leadership of her colleagues who were disturbed by the high mortality from epidemics of summer diarrhoea brought the foundation of the Babies’ Hospital, later the Duchess of York Hospital for Babies, in 1914, and the setting up of the first breast-milk bank for sick infants. This hospital became the nucleus for the training of women for consulting practice, and her home a centre for young women training for, and trained in the nursing and medical professions; in both she showed continual kindness and encouragement to her juniors except on the rare occasions when she saw any departure from her high ideals.

Her many papers to the journals were on rickets in children, on the medical inspection of girls, and on defective girls in secondary schools. Her hobbies of music, walking and swimming were enjoyed with a characteristic enthusiasm.

Although they were well deserved she was evidently astonished by the award of the C.B.E, in 1935 and by her election to the Fellowship of the College under Bye-law xxxix (b) in 1949.

Richard R Trail

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the Fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Brit.med.J., 1952, 2, 287-8, 342-3; Lancet, 1952, 2, 259 (p); Manchester Guardian, 22 July 1952 (p); Manchester News Chronicle, 22 July 1952; Times, 24 July 1952.]

(Volume V, page 70)

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