The first Female Birmingham New Medical School Graduate
Dr Madge Williams MBE, M.B.

Harry Egdell (M 1956 Leeds)

Brought up in Ludlow, Shropshire where her father was a solicitor and possibly also the coroner. Her sister became a head teacher. Madge qualified as a doctor at Birmingham Medical School in 1919. At that time so many of the doctors were away at the war that she had to undertake medical duties far beyond the average medical student.

Working as a general practitioner near her home Madge recounted visiting patients on horse back and, during one period
on the hills, in the snow. Around this time Madge discovered a vocation to be a nun and joined an Anglican order. After a time she decided to become a Catholic and had to leave.

 

After this began her life in Africa which lasted from about 1930 continuously to the eighties. First working at Pumwani,
the old maternity hospital in Nairobi. Subsequently Madge worked mainly in the mission hospitals in Uganda though
had one spell in Kenya. This was over the time of the Mau Mau insurrection when Madge only later discovered that her driver was an active Mau Mau member. Madge was a fund of medical tales whilst working in remote mission hospitals. In
the thirties, when working in a very lonely posting in Busoga District in Uganda she once told me that patients with
pneumonia were not admitted as it was possible that they suffered from highly contagious pneumonic plague.
Madge undertook every kind of medicine, surgery and obstetrics as was expected of a general duties medical officer
in those days though her special interest was obstetricsand gynaecology. Her record of success in the treatment for
infertility brought her patients from all across East Africa.

 


As Madge always worked alone, with no possibility of referring patients to consultants, her practice was to give
the patient a spinal anaesthetic and then turn them round and operate. Caesarian section, stab wounds and laparotomies for the very common volvulus and intussusception in adults were the regular diet of work in addition to a broad range of medical problems with a significant addition of most tropical diseases.

 

Madge told the story of a visiting obstetrician and showing him round her inpatients pointing out a one lady recovering
from surgery for a ruptured uterus. The visitor asked her why she had not performed a hysterectomy. Madge then
asked him how many had he seen. He had operated on one and seen another and said the recognised treatment was
to remove the uterus. Madge then told him she had 220 patients who had had a uterine repair and subsequently
delivered a normal baby.

A wife in Africa without a uterus is at grave risk of rejection. The next day Madge asked who was this young man telling
her how to manage a ruptured uterus. The answer was that it was Sir John Peel, President of the Royal College of
Obstetricians.


Madge was a regular guest at our various homes in Uganda often regaling horrendous medical tales over meals with
our small children listening round eyed. On occasion we would visit her for a weekend at Nkosi (where Madge said
the equator passed through her bedroom). There I could give her a breather from the constant day and night demands of a single doctor in a remote bush hospital. I soon learned how arduous was her clinical life and how very lonely it could be.

 

Madge wished to end her days in Africa. Sadly her hospital at Nkosi was in the path of the advancing Tanzanian army in the war provoked by Amin’s incursion into that country. Madge’s mission sister employers insisted Madge left for
England. Fortunately the BMA provided her with a place in a retirement home until Madge could find an alternative. Madge’s MBE was an appropriate recognition of her contribution to the welfare of her beloved Africans.

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