54 Dr Mary Broadfoot Walker
MB ChB (Ed 1913) MRCP (Lond 1932) MD (Ed 1935)
17 Apr 1888 [Wigtown Scotland] – 13 Sept 1974
In May 1916, Dr Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Surgeon at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, approached all the women on the Medical Register asking them to say if they would be willing to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps. From the replies received, 48 lady doctors were enrolled. The first 22 medical women embarked for Malta on 2 August 1916; another 16 lady doctors embarked on the Hospital Ship (H.S.) Gloucester Castle on 12 August 1916.
The Director General Army Medical Services, Sir Alfred Keogh, was responsible for employing medical women and for dealing with illnesses among them. Women doctors, also referred to as lady doctors, were classed as civilian surgeons attached to the RAMC. Women serving as full time doctors in the Army and doing precisely the same work as their male colleagues had neither military rank nor status, but received the same pay, rations, travelling allowances and gratuity as temporary commissioned male officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. A uniform was not introduced until after April 1918. This was similar in appearance to that worn by the Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC) but with an RAMC badge on both lapels.
In October 1916, on hearing from the War Office that fifty more medical women were needed for service with the RAMC in English hospitals, Aldrich-Blake again negotiated with all the women who had qualified in the preceding ten years, and secured the requisite number in a very short time. On 20 October 1916, eleven medical women embarked on H.S. Britannic for Malta.
The casualties from operations in Gallipoli (25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916), and Salonica (October 1915 – 30 September 1918), were initially treated in Malta and Egypt, but in 1917, submarine attacks on hospital ships made it unsafe to evacuate from Salonica and five General Hospitals, Nos 61, 62, 63, 64 and 65, mobilized in Malta for service in Salonica to which the medical women were attached.
Between August 1916 and July 1917, eighty two lady doctors served in war hospitals in Malta. They worked alongside their RAMC colleagues and carried out all but administrative duties. Their assistance was very highly appreciated. Their work was recognized in the King's Birthday Honours list of June 1918 when Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham MB ChB, Military Hospital Mtarfa, Mrs Katharine Rosebery Drinkwater MB BS, in charge of Military Families Staff and Department Malta and Miss May Thorne MD, in charge of Sisters' Hospital and Staff Department Malta, were awarded the Order of the British Empire for services rendered during the war.
Service Record — Mary Broadfoot Walker
Dr Mary Broadfoot Walker graduated from the University of Glasgow and the Edinburgh Medical College for Women in 1913. She took the MRCP in 1932.
Dr M. B. Walker was Resident Medical Officer of the Hackney Union Infirmary, Homerton, Outdoor House Surgeon at the West End Branch of the Glasgow Royal Maternity and Women Hospital, Medical Officer of the Birmingham General Dispensary, and Senior Hospital Medical Officer at St Benedict's Hospital, London.
Sept 1916 Dr M. B. Walker was contracted to work for 12 months as a Civilian Surgeon attached to the RAMC. Her salary was 24 shillings a day, including allowances, but excluding duty transport. A gratuity of £60 was awarded at the end of the contract, provided employment had not been terminated for misconduct. Most of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.
10 Sept 1916 Embarked in the Hospital Ship Essequibo as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.
1 June 1917 Embarked for Salonica.
1 June 1917 – 10 June 1919 On duty at Salonica with No 63 General Hospital.
Returned to England on 10 June 1919.
1920 – 1936 Assistant medical officer at St Alfege's Hospital Greenwich (Poor Law Service).
1934 At St Alfege's Hospital London, she discovered the beneficial effects of physostigmine on the symptoms of myasthenia, and established the first effective treatment of the disease.
8 Feb 1935 At the Clinical Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Dr M. B. Walker demonstrated that physostigmine given subcutaneously and prostigmine given orally, both substantially, albeit temporarily, reversed the profound muscular weakness of myasthenia gravis. Both physostigmine and prostigmine, prevented the enzyme acetyl cholinesterase from destroying the neuro-transmitter acetyl choline, which is essential for muscular contraction. In Myasthenia Gravis auto antibodies produced by T lymphocytes bind to the motor end plates of nerves and prevent the release of the neuro-transmitter, acetyl choline.
1935 Dr M. B. Walker was the first to recognise the association between familial periodic paralysis and low blood potassium levels. In 1935, she was awarded the MD with gold medal at Edinburgh.
1936 Left St Alfege's Hospital for St Leonard's Hospital, Shoreditch, as a Medical Assistant, then moved to St Francis' Hospital, Dulwich and later to St Benedict's Hospital, Tooting.
1954 Retired to Croft–au–Righ, Wigtown.
1963 Awarded the Jean Hunter Prize by the Royal College of Physicians for work on nervous exhaustion.
13 Sept 1974 Died at the age of 86 years.
- No 54 Army Book 82. Record of Special Reserve Officer's Service (Records of 132 Lady Doctors).
- Obituary, Louisa Aldrich-Blake. Br Med J (1926); 1: 69 (Published 9 January 1926).
- Macpherson W. G., 1921.
History of The Great War, Medical Services General History, Vol I, Chap XIII, The Medical Services in the Mediterranean Garrison pp. 235-248. HMSO London.
- Leneman L., Medical women in the First World War - ranking nowhere. Br Med J (1993); 10: 1592 (Published 18 December 1993).
- Leneman L., Medical Women at war 1914-1918. Medical History 1994, 38: 160-177.
- Fairfield L., Medical Women in the Forces. Part I Women Doctors in the British Forces 1914 - 1918 War. Journal of the Medical Women Federation 49. 1967; p 99.
- Mitchell A. M., Medical Women and the Medical services of the First World War.
- SA/MWF/CI 59. Medical Women Federation, (Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine). Status of medical women under the War Office.
- Women doctors. Hansard House of Commons Debate 2 July 1918; 107: cc1555–6.
- Reports of Societies. Womens' service in Malta with the RAMC. Br Med J (1919); 2 : 634, (Published 15 November 1919).
- The Medical Directory 1923, 79th Issue. London J. & A. Churchill.
- Obituary, Walker Mary Broadfoot. Br Med J (1974); 4: 51, (Published 5 October 1974).
- Walker Mary Broadfoot. Medical History, Some discoveries on Myasthenia Gravis: The Background. Br Med J (1973), 2; 42-43 (Published 7 April 1973).
- Pearce J. M. S., Mary Broadfoot Walker (1888-1974): A Historic Discovery in Myasthenia Gravis. European Neurology 2005; 53 (1):51-53.