Thursday 14 March 2024

Big voyages and broad-minded Wrens. Dr Dorothy Hare's story.

Dorothy Hare c1955,
by FJH Whicker

March 15 1933 #onthisdayshe, Dr Dorothy Hare (1876-1967) sailed into New York as a passenger on one of the world’s stylish ships, the Aquitania.

Had she needed the doctor on board she's have seen a man; women did not become ships' doctors until over 20 years later. Female nurses, by contrast, had been working on passenger ships since c1900 . 

Sailing was nothing special to her, anyway, as a motility-minded person. Dorothy's sister had lived in Venice, her brother in Ceylon, her father in India. Dorothy herself might have settled overseas had she not been too busy pioneering a UK career in medicine.

She’d qualified in 1908 and worked in Malta for the RAMC since 1916, where only a tiny number of servicewomen had been posted.

And from 1918 she'd been the Women's Royal Naval Service Deputy Assistant Medical Director  (pictured, left, in WRNS uniform. Her gold stripes would have been interleaved with scarlet, for medics).  Dorothy was also a great frend of  the WRNS director. 

Dame Katharine Furse (right) was the  arts-minded, nurse-trained, former head of the VAD. Katharine prized her closeness with women friends. Her father was the pioneering investigator of homosexual love, John Addington Symonds. 

This may suggest that Dorothy and Katharine were part of a community where people felt able to live in gender-expansive, non-heteronormative ways. 


Dorothy Hare deserves to be celebrated because:

# She was a pioneering woman doctor

# She helped set up two interwar hostels for women with STDs (especially as  consequence of loosened wartime morality and high infection rates)  because such women were often cast out by families and rejected by homes for unmarried mothers. Her close friend, WRNS officer Berenice d'Avigdor,(1873-1937) set the hostels up with her.

# After retiring to Falmouth with her lifelong partner Dr Elizabeth 'Lesbia' Lepper in 1937 (left of Dorothy, in picture) and travelling the world for two years, she helped revive the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic for art students. 

Her hand-illustrated voyage journals delighted her friends. I would love to track them down. 

The women's voyages incuded sailing first class from Cape Town  on the Dunnottar Castle. 

The senior doctor in the WW2 WRNS, when it re-started, was a married mother.

See also