Florence Barrett

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Lady Florence Elizabeth Barrett
Portrait of Florence Barrett Wellcome L0004411.jpg
Born Henbury, Gloucestershire, England
Nationality British
Education University College, Bristol
Medical career
Profession Surgeon
Field Physician
Institutions London School of Medicine for Women (Royal Free Hospital)
Specialism Gynaecology, Obstetrics

Florence Elizabeth, Lady Barrett, CH CBE (1867 - 7 August 1945) was a consultant surgeon at the Mothers' Hospital in Clapton and the Royal Free Hospital in London. She was one of the leading gynaecologists and obstetricians of her time.[citation needed]

Early and private life

Lady Barrett was born in Henbury in Gloucestershire now part of Bristol, and she was the fourth child of merchant Benjamin Perry. Even though she received little formal education in the early part of her life, she studied physiology and organic chemistry at University College, Bristol, and graduated with a first-class BSc in 1895. She received a Bachelor of Medicine (MB) in 1900 and a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1906 at the London School of Medicine for Women.[1]

Barrett married surgeon Frederick George Ingor Willey, the son of Josiah Willey FRCS, in 1896.

In 1916, Barrett married Sir William Fletcher Barrett FRS. At the time of their marriage, Sir Barrett, aged 72, was a former Professor of Physics at the Royal College of Science for Ireland in Dublin. His research focused on psychic phenomena, and he later founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. She claimed to have conversed with her husband after his death in 1925 through the help of a third-party.[2] She published an account of the sittings, entitled Personality Survives Death, in 1937.[3]

Medical career

Barrett joined the staff of the Royal Free Hospital in 1906,[4] which was the only hospital in England where women could train in medical practice at the time. In 1916 she led a fund-raising campaign to extend the hospital, adding maternity, paediatric and infant welfare facilities. She helped to develop the London School of Medicine for Women at the Royal Free Hospital, of which she became Dean and then President in 1937. She also established voluntary centres in London to provide food for undernourished children and pregnant women before the First World War.

She was an obstetric surgeon at the Mothers’ Hospital from 1913 to 1945, and an obstetric and gynaecological surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital. She was also an honorary surgeon at the Marie Curie Hospital in Hampstead.

Barrett served as president of the Medical Women's Federation in 1923, and joint vice-president of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Section of the British Medical Association. She was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and president of the Medical Women's International Association.

She was an active member of the Eugenics Society, and served on its council since 1917. She strongly opposed contraception, arguing that it would "interfere with the natural course of lovemaking" and "degrade it to the grossly physical".[citation needed]

She reportedly was interested in a wide range of subjects, from the supernatural to eugenics and women's rights.[citation needed]

Barrett supported women's suffrage, and equal employment rights for women. She supported the Marriage Guidance Council, and raised funds for Red Cross ambulances during the Second World War.[citation needed]

Later life

She was appointed as a CBE in the first list of awards for the Order of the British Empire in 1917, and became a Companion of Honour in 1929.[5]

She died in Maidenhead, and a memorial service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Her obituary in The Times stated "She was unquestionably one of the most distinguished of medical women".[1] She left her husband’s library to the Society for Psychical Research, and also left £1,000 to endow a scholarship at the London School of Medicine for Women.


  1. ^ a b "Obituary". The Times. 9 August 1945.
  2. ^ Barrett, William (1 January 2011). Deathbed visions. White Crow. ISBN 9781907661020. OCLC 930376608.
  3. ^ Barrett, Lady Florence Elizabeth (1937). Personality survives death; messages from Sir William Barrett. London, New York Longmans, Green and Co.
  4. ^ Jessop, Claudia (21 December 2009). "A most decorated lady". The Story of Healthcare in Hackney. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  5. ^ "The New Year Honours." Times [London, England] 1 March 1929: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 30 August 2013.
  • Lady Florence Barrett (1867-1945), The Hackney Society
  • A most decorated lady, The Hackney Society
  • Wills and bequests, The Times, Friday, 14 December 1945; pg. 8; Issue 50325; col B
  • Women, A Modern Political Dictionary, Cheryl Law, p. 21-22
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