Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

UG Physiology (1930)

Dame Alice Josephine Barnes© Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome ImagesDBE (1974) BA Oxon (1934) MA BM BCh (1937) FRCS (1939) DM (1941) FRCOG (1952) FRCP (1967) Hon FRCPI (1977) Hon MD Liverpool (1979) Hon DSc Leicester (1980) Hon MD Southampton (1981) Hon DSc Oxon (1990) Hon FRCOG (1994)

Dame Josephine Barnes is considered one of the leading obstetricians and gynaecologists of her generation, renowned for working extensively on cancer screening initiatives and her prominent role in the public debate over the 1967 Abortion Act. She first took up science in the 1920s at the Oxford High School for Girls and decided on a career in medicine. She became a medical student at Oxford, just one of five women studying medicine that year, reading Natural Sciences at Lady Margaret Hall, just one of five women studying the subject at the time. She graduated with a First in Physiology (1930) under the tutorship of Sir Charles Sherrington PBS. She transferred to University College Hospital (UCH) Medical School, London, for clinical training, qualifying in 1937. The beginnings of her surgical career can be attributed to the Department of Anatomy, where she was tutored in dissection by Dr Alice Carleton, which propelled her to the primary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons at just 22 years old in 1939.

When the Second World War started, she started work at the Samaritan Hospital. From 1947, she ran a mobile obstetric team from University College Hospital. Barnes was the first woman consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Charing Cross Hospital (1954) and in 1979, she became the 139th and first woman President of the British Medical Association. She was also Chairman of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital Appeal Trust, President of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Obstetrics and Gynaecology (1977-95, now the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women's Health), and President of the Royal British Nurses' Association. She was also President of the History of Medicine Society at the Royal Society of Medicine (1995-96). She was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (of which was at one time Vice-President).

“A long life of clinical and social service, revealing to me every shade of what Balzac called the human condition, was a stunning privilege from end to end” is how Dame Josephine concluded her memoirs in 1999.

Read more on the Royal College of Physicians website.

Read her obituary in The BMJ (Dame Josephine Barnes 1912-1999)