Celebrating North Yorkshire’s first woman doctor

This story was published 4 December 2020

A pioneer who became the first woman doctor in North Yorkshire is the final nominee in the County Council’s Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters campaign.

Made in North Yorkshire Dr Laura Sobey Veale

Dr Laura Sobey Veale overcame strong hostility to pursue her profession and had a considerable influence on life in Harrogate.

The campaign highlights and celebrates figures from North Yorkshire’s past who were immensely influential within the county. It draws on County Record Office archives and the work of local history groups.

Laura Veale was born 30 August, 1867, in Hampsthwaite village to the north-west of Harrogate, where she spent her early childhood. Her father, Richard, was a native of Cornwall who had studied medicine at Edinburgh.

Setting up her practise in 1904, at 3 Victoria Avenue in Harrogate, Dr Laura Veale made history, having overcome the considerable degree of opposition to women entering the medical profession in the late nineteenth century.

Laura was a little older than most when she began her medical studies. In the 1901 census, we find her as a 33-year-old medical student living in St Pancras. After her return, she lived the rest of her life in Harrogate. She died on 14 August, 1963, aged 95, at Scotton Bank Hospital.

After the medical school in Leeds shut its doors to her, she went to London to pursue her studies at the University of London, passing the London M.B. Her medical education was then pursued at the Royal Free Hospital. Dr Veale’s first post was at the Hospital for Women and Children in Leeds, but she soon returned to Harrogate where she began general practice.

Dr Veale then started a department for women and children. After the First World War, she achieved her ambition of establishing a maternity department in the hospital, which opened in 1937. She also established infant welfare and antenatal clinics in the town and was medical officer of the Municipal Babies’ Hospital.

Although she retired in 1936, Laura continued to play a prominent part in the life of the town. She organised the Women’s Voluntary Service for Harrogate during the Second World War and led the campaign to collect scrap metal for the war effort, riding through the town in a car pulled by local scouts, shouting out at the top of her voice.

Dr Paul Jennings from Harrogate Civic Society History Group, said: “Whilst technically born in the former West Riding of Yorkshire she was, of course, a daughter of North Yorkshire. She deserves recognition as an important figure in the history of both medicine and feminism and a key figure in medical provision, especially for women and infants, in her native county and more particularly Harrogate.

“It is as a pioneering woman in the medical profession, in her work for medical provision in Harrogate, particularly for women and children, and through her wider work for the community that she is so important to Harrogate.”

Dr Laura Veale has a plaque in Harrogate, which was unveiled in April 2017 at the site of her surgery. Paid for by the Harrogate Medical Society, the objective of plaques like these is to honour the individual concerned and to make more widely known their contribution to the town. As an important figure in the history both of medicine and feminism and for the significance of her work for the people of Harrogate, she was an ideal subject for a plaque.

The Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les, said: “During the current pandemic, it is important we recognise the hard work of all doctors and nurses across the country. Figures such as Dr Laura Veale are incredibly important to the county. She showed determination and dedication not to give up in difficult times.”

Now that the final nominee has been announced, the public will shortly be invited to cast their votes for whoever they think deserves the title of the Great North Yorkshire son or daughter. Details of how to vote will be announced shortly on the County Council’s social media channels – @northyorkscc on Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram – and elsewhere.

In the meantime, read more about Dr Laura Sobey Veale and the other nominees in the Great Sons and Daughters campaign.