The final feature in the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters series, is Dr Laura Veale. Born on 30 August 1867 in the village of Hampsthwaite, near Harrogate, Laura Veale went onto become the first Yorkshire woman to qualify as a doctor.
Dr Laura Sobey Veale came from a prominent family of doctors, her father Richard Sobey Veale, (whose middle name Laura also took) studied medicine at Edinburgh University, and both of Laura’s brothers, Henry and Rawson Augustus, also pursued medical careers. Laura spent much of her childhood in Harrogate, where her family lived in the Victoria Park area of the town.
In the late 19th century, there was still a stigma, and a considerable amount of opposition to women entering medicine, which is made evident by Laura Veale’s rejection from Leeds medical school. Despite this, Laura did not give up on a medical career and was eventually accepted to study medicine at the University of London. The 1901 census records Laura S Veale as a 33 year old medical student at St Pancras.
Laura Veale qualified as a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital, London in 1904. Once qualified, Laura’s first post was at the Hospital for Women and Children in Leeds. After six months she returned to her home town of Harrogate, and set up a general practice at 3 Victoria Avenue, and in doing so she became Harrogate’s, and indeed Yorkshire’s first woman doctor.
Fighting for change
Dr Laura Veale was passionate about improving medical care for women and children, including for those from more deprived parts of Yorkshire. This included establishing a dispensary in New Park, Harrogate, which became the basis of Harrogate Infirmary’s Women’s and Children’s department. Whilst working as an obstetrician at Harrogate Infirmary, Dr Laura Veale fought for over twenty-five years to establish a maternity department at the hospital. She finally achieved her goal in 1937, when a maternity department was unveiled at the hospital.
The images below show Dr Laura Veale’s name listed as a Consulting Obstetrician in the 1935 Harrogate Infirmary Annual Report, alongside a recognition that in 1935 plans to build a maternity department were being considered.
Harrogate Civic Society
In 2017, in order to remember the invaluable work of Dr Laura Veale to her local community, Harrogate Civic Society installed a plaque at the site of her surgery at 3 Victoria Avenue, Harrogate. The purpose of a Harrogate Civic Society plaque is to honour the individual concerned and to make more widely known their contribution to the town. According to Dr Paul Jennings, member of Harrogate Civic Society, it was Dr Laura Veale’s incredible contribution to both medicine and feminism, which made her an ideal candidate for a plaque.
Dr Paul Jennings added:
‘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.’
Despite retiring from medicine in 1936, Dr Laura continued to make a difference where she lived. This included organising the Women’s Voluntary Service for Harrogate during the Second World War, and establishing infant welfare and antenatal clinics in Harrogate. Dr Laura Veale died on 14 August 1963, aged 95, at Scotton Bank Hospital. An obituary extract from the Harrogate Advertiser, dated 17 August 1963, can be seen below.
Overall, Dr Laura Veale paved the way for Yorkshire women, and indeed all women, to pursue medicine and excel at it. She saw prominent gaps in healthcare for women and children, and dedicated much of her life to improving it. During the current coronavirus pandemic, the role of our doctors, nurses and NHS service has arguably never been more important; and as such, it is important to remember the work of pioneers such as Dr Laura Veale.
We would like to thank Dr Paul Jennings and other members of the Harrogate Civic Society for supporting our blog and sharing their stories and knowledge of Dr Laura Veale.