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Dr Isabella Pringle (1876-1963)

Missionary, child health pioneer, and the first female Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

Isabella Pringle

Isabella Pringle was born in Edinburgh in December 1876, and brought up in Morningside.

After several years in a range of academic secretarial jobs, Pringle attended classes at the University and graduated with the MBChB in 1909, at the age of 33.


After her initial residency, she travelled to Manchuria to work as a medical missionary until 1916. A combination of ill health and a developing interest in maternity and child welfare in Scotland led her to take on further residencies - at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

She then passed the Scottish Directors of Public Health exams and moved to Paisley, becoming responsible for the new maternity and child welfare scheme there. Under her leadership this became one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Scotland, decades before the establishment of the National Health Service.


The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh debated the role of women in medicine in their quarterly meeting in November 1918. Efforts to acknowledge and support women doctors were incorporated into a supplementary charter in January 1920. Subsequently, Pringle completed her MD in 1921 and, in 1925, passed the membership examination.

First female Fellow

She then moved to Edinburgh to become senior assistant medical officer in the maternity and child-welfare service of the City Corporation. Her colleague and mentor was Dr T. Y. Finlay, and it was this committed partnership that ensured steady development and improving services in the city. Pringle became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1929, the first woman to receive this honour.

Isabella Pringle died on 27 May 1963 in Chalmers Crescent, Edinburgh, and is rightly remembered as a pioneer of maternal and child health.