Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison was born in Hauxwell, Yorkshire, the eleventh of the twelve children of Rev Mark James Pattison and his wife, Jane. One of her siblings was the scholar Mark Pattison. Her childhood was overshadowed by the illness of her father, who had suffered a mental breakdown and became violent and domineering. In 1856, she became secretly engaged to a man called James Tate, the son of the headmaster of Richmond school. The Tates were one of the few families with whom the Pattisons had social contact. At the same time she also developed feelings for another man, Purchas Stirke. After her mother's death in 1860, she broke off her engagement with James. She thought she preferred Stirke, but broke away from him as well. She was able to leave home with a £90 bequest from her mother. From 1861–64, she ran the village school at Little Woolstone, Buckinghamshire.
In the autumn of 1864, she joined the Sisterhood of the Good Samaritans at Coatham, Middlesbrough, and became known as Sister Dora. She would devote the remainder of her life to nursing. She was sent to work at Walsall's hospital in Bridge Street and arrived in Walsall on 8 January 1865. The rest of her life was spent in Walsall. She worked at the Cottage Hospital at The Mount until 1875, when Walsall was hit by smallpox. She worked for six months at an epidemic infirmary set up in Deadman's Lane (now Hospital Street), treating thousands of patients. During the last two years of her life, she worked at the hospital in Bridgeman Street, overlooking the South Staffordshire Railway (later the London and North Western Railway). She developed a special bond of friendship with railway workers who often suffered in industrial accidents. The railwaymen gave her a pony and a carriage and even raised the sum of £50 from their own wages to enable her to visit housebound patients more easily.
In 1877 Sister Dora developed breast cancer. She decided against an operation and kept her disease a secret. She died on Christmas Eve 1878, aged 46. At her funeral on 28 December, the town of Walsall turned out to see her off to Queen Street Cemetery, borne by eighteen railwaymen, engine drivers, porters and guards, all in working uniform.
- The former Walsall General Hospital was renamed Walsall General (Sister Dora) Hospital. It has now been largely demolished in the rearrangement of the town's provision of health services, but Sister Dora's name is still perpetuated in the new hospitals. The provision for outpatients at Walsall Manor Hospital is named Sister Dora Outpatients Department. In Alumwell Close, Walsall, behind the Manor Hospital is a Mental Health Hospital which has been dedicated to Sister Dora. 'Dorothy Pattison Hospital' cares for Mental Health patients and belongs to the Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership Trust.
- In 1882, a stained glass window at St. Matthew's Church, Walsall, was dedicated to her.
- In October 1886, a statue of Sister Dora by Francis John Williamson was unveiled in Walsall by a Mr. B Beebee. Reputedly it is the UK's first public statue of a woman not of royal blood.
- An annual church service is held in her memory in at St. Paul's Church at the Crossing in Walsall.
- Probably after employees' persuasion, the London & North Western Railway named one of its locomotives 'Sister Dora' (date?). 2-4-0 'Jumbo' number 2158 was chosen to carry the name and it was alleged to have been put on diagrams which took it through Walsall Station every day. A working miniature version of this locomotive (to run on seven and a quarter inch gauge track) ran for a short time in the 1980s on the Walsall Steam Railway in Walsall Arboretum. The Walsall Steam Railway also regularly hauled passenger trains with a miniature LMS Black 5 4-6-0 number 5000 and this carried the name 'Sister Dora', too (though the prototype 5000 never did).
- A portrait of Sister Dora by George Phoenix has been preserved at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
- British Rail Class 31 diesel locomotive 31 430 (now in preservation) was named after her. Several models of this locomotive have been produced in both 00 and N scales. Later British Rail Class 37 diesel loco 37 116 (preserved, now reinstated) received the name from the Class 31.
- The Midland Metro has a tram named Sister Dora.
- The main road through her home village of Woolstone, Milton Keynes is called Pattison Lane.
- Sister Dora Gardens in Caldmore and Dora Street in Pleck are named after her.
- A building at Walsall Campus, University of Wolverhampton is named in honour of Sister Dora.
- Walsall's Own 'Lady with the lamp', Miss W R Probert, The Blackcountryman, Spring 2007, Vol. 40 No. 2 p. 51; ISSN 0006-4335
- Watkin B., Sister Dora of Walsall (Dorothy Pattison), Nursing Mirror. 1977 Jun 23;144(25):7-9.
- Price, Millicent, "Inasmuch As..." : The Story of Sister Dora of Walsall. Published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1952. N.B. Millicent Price in her book refers to a biography of Sister Dora written by one Margaret Lonsdale and published during the 1880s "It ran into 39 editions and was included in the Tauchnitz library" but provides little detail and refers to "bitter" criticism of the writer by Sister Dora's colleagues and family. Price also refers to Ellen Ridsdale, "a Walsall woman bound to Sister Dora through years of close friendship" who published a pamphlet about sister Dora and comments "The Lonsdale book and the Ridsdale pamphlet and a few newspaper cuttings are all the records now available" to anyone researching the life of Sister Dora. Presumably she intended her own work to address this situation.
- Lonsdale, Margaret, Sister Dora, London, Kegan Paul, 1895
- Ridsdale, Ellen M M, Sister Dora: Personal Reminiscence of her Later Years, with some of her Letters, Walsall, Griffin, 1880
- Manton, Jo, Sister Dora: A Life of Dorothy Pattison, London, Methuen, 1971