Margaret Ida Balfour

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Margaret Ida Balfour
Born (1866-04-21)21 April 1866
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 1 December 1945(1945-12-01) (aged 79)
Nationality Scottish
Education Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women
Known for pioneer and campaigner for women's health in India
Medical career
Profession Medical doctor
Institutions The Women’s Medical Service for India

Margaret Ida Balfour, CBE (21 April 1866 – 1 December 1945) was a Scottish doctor and campaigner for women’s medical health issues, who made a significant contribution to the development of medicine in India.[1] Her prolific writing during the early 20th century alerted many to the health needs of women and children in India and Africa and the unhealthy environments in which they lived.[2]

Early life[edit]

Margaret Balfour, daughter of Frances Grace Blaikie (1820–1891) and Scottish accountant Robert Balfour (1818–1869), was born in Edinburgh in 1866.[2] She studied at Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women under Sophia Jex-Blake and qualified as a doctor in 1891.[3] After graduating, she spent a year working with Dr Annie McCall at the Clapham Maternity Hospital in South London before moving to India in 1892.[3]

Career in India[edit]

Her first role in India was as manager of the Zenana Hospital in Ludhiana, where a medical school for women was established two years after her arrival. She then spent 18 years working as a Medical Superintendent, initially at the Dufferin Hospital at Nahan, where she worked until 1902, and then the Dufferin Hospital in Patiala, where she remained until 1914.[4]

Her success in these role led to her appointment as assistant to the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals, Punjab, in 1914. Two years later, she became the Chief Medical Officer of the newly formed Women’s Medical Service, a post she held until 1924.[3] At the same time, she served for eight years as joint secretary at Delhi and Simla to the Countess of Dufferin’s Fund, an organisation which was established to promote medical education for women in India.[4] In recognition of her work, in 1920 she was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for Public Service in India.[3][5]

Balfour ended her formal work in India in 1924 and returned to the UK, where she was awarded a CBE.[4] She continued to work on behalf of Indian women, however, calling for the employment of more female doctors in India.


While being based in the UK, she make a number of return visits to India, in particular in connection with research into tropical anaemias she was undertaking with Dr Lucy Wills.[3] In 1929 she published, with Ruth Young, The Work of Medical Women in India, a history of medical women in that country.[6] Also that year, she became a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In 1930, she published results of an investigation into maternity conditions among female mill-workers in Bombay and became one of the founding members of the Overseas Association of the Medical Women’s Federation.[4] In the 1930s she also became interest in maternal health issues in the UK, publishing Motherhood in the Special Areas of Durham and Tyneside with Joan Catherine Drury in 1935 and the Study of the Effect on Mother and Child of Gainful Occupation During Pregnancy in 1938[7][8] During the Second World War she became an ARP medical officer in London and a member of the National Council of Women.[4]

Further reading[edit]

  • S Hodges, Reproductive Health in India : History, Politics, Controversies, Orient Longman, New Delhi 2006, ISBN 81-250-2939-7


  1. ^ The biographical dictionary of Scottish women : from the earliest times to 2004 (Reprinted. ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2006. ISBN 0748617132. 
  2. ^ a b Windsor, Laura Lynn (2002). Women in medicine : an encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO. p. 19. ISBN 1576073920. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "'One of the great leaders among medical women in India'". Wellcome Library. Retrieved 2017-12-28. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Margaret Balfour, C.B.E., M.D., F.R.C.O.G.". The British Medical Journal. 2 (4432): 866–867. 15 December 1945. JSTOR 20364930. 
  5. ^ Clark, Linda E. (2008). Women and achievement in nineteenth century Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0521658782. 
  6. ^ Balfour, Margaret, Ida; Young, Ruth (1929). The work of medical women in India. H. Milford. 
  7. ^ Balfour, Margaret Ida; Drury, Joan Catherine (1935). Motherhood in the Special Areas of Durham and Tyneside. Council of Action. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Balfour, Margaret Ida (1938). A Study of the Effect on Mother and Child of Gainful Occupation During Pregnancy. H.R. Grubb. Retrieved 21 February 2015.