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Book review - Health & Living - Doctor and rebel

Dorothy Stopford Price (1890-1954) is one of the most overlooked figures in Irish medicine and in Irish history.

From the Anglo-Irish upper classes, she was educated at the prestigious St Paul’s School in London and in her early years was loyal to the British crown.

Anne Mac Lellan’s compelling biography describes how the aftermath of the 1916 rising led Dorothy to question her allegiances, and she became a committed Irish nationalist and republican. She took an active part in both the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.

The foundation of the Irish Free State and Partition led to major political disillusionment for Dorothy, who then channelled her energies into medicine.

At a time when women doctors were still a relative rarity, Dorothy decided to focus exclusively on medicine and became a paediatrician, having previously studied at TCD medical school, worked as a dispensary doctor and provided medical assistance to the wounded during the ‘troubles’.

She learned German specifically so she could study with international doctors, as most medical advances in this era were often pioneered overseas.

Dorothy became a champion in the long and ultimately successful battle against tuberculosis in Ireland. She is perhaps best known for the introduction of the preventive Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccine into Ireland, first using the vaccine at St Ultan’s Hospital in Dublin in 1937. Widespread BCG vaccination against TB began in Ireland in the late 1940s.

The book points out that Dorothy’s championing of the diagnostic tuberculin test in Ireland was equally, if not more important. An often controversial figure, she clashed with the formidable Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who eventually put a stop to her attempts to establish a national antituberculosis league.

Dorothy, who was married to Liam Price, a talented antiquarian and well-known district justice, was a colleague and a friend to many well-known figures in Irish and international medicine.

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of Irish medicine, politics and society in the 20th century.

– Niall Hunter

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