Rosa Bale

The Box

The Box | Tavistock Place | Plymouth | Devon PL4 8AX 01752 304774 Email Facebook Twitter

Dr Rosa Bale (1865-1941) was born in Barnstaple in 1864. She became Plymouth’s first female doctor, and possibly the first one west of Bristol, in either 1895 or 1896, having qualified at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1892.  

Having encountered prejudice as a woman in her chosen profession, she was a keen but non-militant suffragist, and supported the other female doctors who followed her. She was also a revered speaker.

She lived and worked in Portland Square just off North Hill and refused to move away from Plymouth during the Second World War, claiming that as many of her patients had not been evacuated, she should stay too.

Sadly, her house was damaged in the Blitz of March 1941 and she moved back to Barnstaple where she lived until she died later that year.

The Bale family were staunch Methodists and Rosa was a key figure at Plymouth’s Ebenezeer Chapel, where she took a weekly Bible class. She also oversaw the project to re-model their premises as the Plymouth Central Methodist Church. 

Hilary Neve, Professor in Medical Education at the University of Plymouth said: “It’s really incredible what Dr Bale achieved. At a time when glass ceilings would have been 10 metres thick, she not only qualified as a doctor, but was. She was an inspirational figure.”

A blue plaque dedicated to her can be seen on the north side of the Portland Square building, on the University of Plymouth’s campus.

This unassuming item from the collections at The Box is her medical bag. 

The beautiful leather-bound item pictured below is an ‘lluminated Address’. They were once an important element in the celebration of someone’s achievements. 

Often presented as a scroll or a framed panel, the finest examples were made of calfskin vellum, a material which is prepared by hand using methods that date back to the Middle Ages. 

Other variations included high quality handmade white paper with black text, or tinted paper with coloured text. Scrolls were sometimes attached to decorative rollers and featured embroidered ribbons and gilt. Others, such as this one, were enclosed in a leather case with gold detailing.

The address was presented to Rosa Bale on 1 May 1926 and confirms that she began her ‘pioneering medical work’ in Plymouth in 1895.

The left hand side of the address features a list of 23 members of the South Western Association of Medical Woman’s Federation. It was gifted to The Box’s collections in 1976 by the husband of Dr Jessica (Jessie) Gilbert, one of the other women on the list. 

She practiced in Plymouth from 1924 until 1933 and was assistant, partner and then successor to Rosa at Portland Square.

If you look closely you’ll see that the address is signed by none other than Dr Mabel Ramsay.

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