New blue plaque honours Plymouth’s first female doctor

A new blue plaque honouring a pioneering female medic has been unveiled on the University of Plymouth campus.

Dr Rosa Bale 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.

Her plaque can be found on the north west corner of the Portland Square building.

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 lived and worked in Portland Square, 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. But 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, on 3 November, aged 76.

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 remodel the premises as the Plymouth Central Methodist Church.

Hilary Neve, Professor in Medical Education at the University 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 a revered speaker and made a huge difference to local public health in Plymouth. She was an inspirational figure.”