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By Selina Hurley on

Caroline Matthews – A Medical Woman Of Mystery

In the Wellcome medical collections, there are lots of relics relating to famous people, some of which have featured on this blog. Many of them are from the great men of medicine and science, Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, as well as military and naval men, Nelson, Napoleon and Wellington.

In the Wellcome Library, only one woman’s name made the inscription in the Reading Room: Florence Nightingale.

Reading Room, Wellcome Library ( Wellcome Images )

Not so with the collections though. During one visit to the stores I came across a curious item: Khaki haversack, belonging to Dr. Caroline Matthews. Intrigued, I started searching through Wellcome Images.

Caroline Matthews ( Wellcome Images )

So just who was Dr Caroline Matthews (1878-1927)?

After graduating from Edinburgh Medical College for Women in 1903, Dr Matthews spent most of her time on the continent. We are fortunate enough to have some of her medals for her services during the Messina Earthquake in Italy, 1908 and with the Italian Red Cross.

During the Balkan War of 1912-13, she was war correspondent for the Sphere, and held the rank of surgeon in the Montenegro army and was also awarded a medal for her services.

Some of Dr Caroline Mathews' medals
Some of Dr Caroline Mathews' medals ( Science Museum / Selina Hurley )

Dr Matthews wrote Experiences of a Woman Doctor in Serbia, published by Mills and Boon in 1916, in the middle of the First World War or the ‘Great Upheaval’ as Caroline called it.

The book recounts her journeys through Serbia with the Scottish Women’s Unit, her time as a Prisoner of War and her journey back to London in 1915. Quite possibly my favourite part of the book is her account of stocking up on supplies, with her “English RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) ‘Tabloid’ case on which to rely.”  Tabloid was the brand name of Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. Maybe she carried her supplies in the haversack, now sitting in the Science Museum stores?

Khaki haversack, belonging to Dr. Caroline Matthews
Khaki haversack, belonging to Dr. Caroline Matthews ( Science Museum / Selina Hurley )

I’ve been trying to work out why this material is in the collection. It was acquired from a private collection, just five months after her death. I feel a part 2 to this blog coming along…..

One comment on “Caroline Matthews – A Medical Woman Of Mystery

  1. I’m an archivist working on a project at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and I found this post while trying to find information about a woman mentioned in the memoirs of Swedish engineer Axel Sahlin. In his account of a trip to India in 1911, he notes that his wife befriended a remarkable woman only identified as “Miss Matthews” from London. This Miss Matthews was a doctor and traveled to Messina to answer a call for aid after the earthquake. According to Sahlin, she was on the train in 1911 because she had contracted tuberculosis in Messina and was going to Egypt to die (there’s a particularly gruesome description of what traveling without a berth is like for someone with TB).

    Thank you for posting this! I’m delighted and kind of stunned that Googling for “matthews woman doctor London WWI” was actually successful.

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