Pictured as Head of Abbaye Royaumont

IVENS (Mary Hannah) Frances   [1870-1944]

Frances Ivens, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, was the first woman to be appointed to a consultant post in Liverpool. She had a long and eminent association with Liverpool hospitals and, remarkably for the times, ran a hospital for French casualties during the First World War with such success that she was awarded decorated by the President of France with the Cross of the Légiion d’Honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre.

She was born Mary Hannah Frances in July 1870, the daughter of timber merchant William Ivens and his wife Elizabeth who resided at Little Harborough, near Rugby, Northamptonshire. Her mother died when she 10 years old. She and her sister were educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and she then entered the London School of Medicine for Women when she was 24. She qualified in 1900 with a gold medal in Obstetrics and Honours in Forensic Medicine. In 1903 she became only the third woman to obtain the degree of Master of Surgery.

In 1907 she came to Liverpool as Honorary Gynaecological Surgeon at the Stanley Hospital. Her position and reputation put her in a strong position to champion women, children and wider feminist causes. From its inception she was a key figure in the North of England Medical Women’s Society and chair of the Liverpool branch of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Suffrage Society.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 she volunteered to serve in France and was soon appointed the head of a unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospital in the Abbaye de Royaumont. Wholly staffed by women the hospital worked under the French Red Cross. Prior to this appointment Frances Ivens had only ever treated women and children but quickly had to equip herself to handle the hundreds of French troops wounded from the Western Front.  Initially having 100 beds by the end of the war it had increased six-fold and had dealt with over ten thousand patients. Frances Ivens worked throughout the war until February 1919 with just one brief return to England, most of which she spent fundraising for the hospital. The bulk of the surgery was carried out by Ivens and he second in command Ruth Nicholson. The hospital had a remarkably low mortality rate, 1.82%, compared to similar military hospitals.

Returning to Liverpool after the war she was closely involved with the rebuilding of the maternity hospital. Serving as President of the Medical Women’s Foundation from 1924 to 1926, she was the first woman to be elected Vice President of the Liverpool Medical Institution in 1929, and founder fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the same year.
Her first home in Liverpool was at 45A Rodney Street L1, moving c.1920 to 15 Gambier Terrace L8 where she lived until moving to London after her marriage in 1930.

Aged 60 she married a friend from her student days, widower Charles Knowles, and moved to London. When her husband retired they moved to Truro in Cornwall. She died on 6th February 1944 at St Clement, Cornwall.

45 Rodney Street L1

Frances Ivens'  Liverpool home from her arrival in 1907 until c. 1920

15 Gambier Terrace L8

Frances Ivens' home from c.1920 to 1930.


The fullest account of Frances Ivens' career can be found on the Wenchesintrenches website. The Wikipedia entry gives a reasonable general outline. There is an obituary on the British Medical Journal website.