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Mona Chalmers Watson (1872 - 1936)

Scottish physician, head of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and the first woman to receive an MD from the University of Edinburgh.

Mona Chalmers Watson

Born Alexandra Mary Geddes in India in 1872, Mona was the eldest of seven children of Auckland Campbell Geddes, a civil engineer, and Christina Helen MacLeod Geddes (née Anderson). She was educated at St Leonard's School in St Andrews.


On leaving school, Mona turned her focus towards the study of medicine, following in the footsteps of several family members including her maternal great-grandfather, John Ford Anderson, who had been a doctor in Peterhead. Her mother had been an early campaigner on behalf of the cause of medical education for women, and through her mother she was also related to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in England. Mona's maternal aunt Mary Adamson Marshall (née Anderson) had also been one of the original women admitted to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1871, later qualifying in Paris.

Mona was the first woman to receive an MD from the University of Edinburgh. The same day that she received her MD, she married Dr Douglas Chalmers Watson, and the couple set up a private practice in Edinburgh on Walker St, sharing it until 1914.

Military corps

During the early half of the First World War, women in Scotland had typically worked in the nursing or munitions industries, occasionally running field hospitals and soup canteens or driving ambulances. By 1916, Mona had begun to advocate the creation of a corps of women volunteers who could undertake additional ancillary, non-combatant duties; at this time, her brother, Brigadier-General Sir Auckland Geddes, was the director of recruiting at the War Office, and he arranged for his sister to pitch her ideas for the formation of such a corp. In July 1917, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formally instituted and Mona became its first Chief Controller.


Mona was a noted suffragette, and during the establishment of the WAAC, she had concentrated on improving the levels of pay offered to the women taking over men's jobs. She also served as a doctor for the suffragette prisoners in Perth.

Although Mona had to resign from the head of the WAAC in 1918 when one of her sons fell ill after an appendectomy, her efforts had already set a precedent and her place in history as assured.

Dr Mona Chalmers Watson’s work organising the WAAC was recognised by the award of a CBE in 1917. She died on 7 August 1936.