Elizabeth McKenzie Newton (1916-2011)

Dr Elizabeth Mitchell (as she would become) is shown here as a child in delightful photographs from 1920 or earlier. She survived her tough beginnings in Turkey during WW1 and lived a long and successful life. Like her father, she qualified as a doctor (from Edinburgh University in 1942), and ended up as a consultant anaesthetist in the dental service (for schools) in the North of England. By then she had married Dr John Mitchell, and had two children, both of whom also became medical doctors in turn, one of whom I’ve now had the pleasure to meet. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren also feature members of the medical and allied health professions, in common with many in our extended family.

To paraphrase her obituary: she was the daughter of Scottish medical missionaries, born in Smyrna. See other blog entries (eg here) for that aspect of the story. Here she is, presumably photographed not long after she returned to Scotland from Smyrna.

B0030 Elizabeth (McKenzie) Newton

Elizabeth’s later childhood and student days were spent in Edinburgh – some of it at 23 Greenbank Crescent, Morningside (pictured below as it is today, from Google STREETVIEW), with her mother Ebeth and step-father Robert Galloway. You can see maps showing what the area was like in 1929 in the post about Ebeth and Robert’s wedding.


After qualifying from medical school and undertaking wartime service as a surgeon in England, prejudicial social and professional pressures necessitated a change of career into anaesthetics, in which she was very successful, attaining the highest academic qualification available, a DA (an academic doctorate) and ultimately becoming a consultant.

She married Dr John Mitchell, and because he was also a doctor for the same hospital group, in Bolton, she was forced to leave her post. Something similar occurred to her first cousin, Dr Ebeth Scobbie when she married Bill Barr (Elizabeth, her mother Ebeth and her cousin Ebeth all shared the same name!): and cousin Ebeth gave up her medical career. In those days, women were expected or required to not work in professional careers, in trade, or in business if they were married: a husband was expected to support the whole family financially and married couples working together were seen as a potential source of conflict. More menial roles were often available, but in all walks of life, social norms and protective practices made it difficult for mothers and wives to work (either at all, or in the career of their choice), or to earn equivalent pay even when satisfying work in their career of choice was available.

Elizabeth developed an interest in her ancestors and relatives within her grand-father James Scobbie and grand-mother Willhemina Laughland’s families, compiling a large family tree, well-organised and beautifully hand-written, for which we are very grateful.

Her obituary, written by David Mitchell and Deborah Mitchell for publication, says in part:

She qualified in medicine at Edinburgh University during the second world war and started her career at Winchester Emergency War Hospital. She trained in surgery at Derby Royal Infirmary, where she treated soldiers wounded in the war, including those returning from the D-Day landings. Advised at the end of the war that surgery was not an option for her as a woman, she trained in anaesthesia at North Middlesex Hospital …

When her husband, [Dr] John Mitchell, was appointed consultant physician to Bolton Royal Infirmary, Elizabeth was unable to continue in hospital anaesthesia as hospitals at that time would not employ spouses in the same hospital group. She therefore turned to dental anaesthesia and worked for the schools dental service in Bolton. Later she took advantage of the married women’s retraining programme and re-entered hospital anaesthetics at Wrightington Hospital, where she anaesthetised for Sir John Charnley, the pioneer hip replacement surgeon. …

Photograph of the Children's Names page of a large heavily bound "family bible"
Photograph of the Children’s Names page of a large heavily bound “family bible”. Elizabeth MacKenzie Newton (sic) seems to have been omitted, perhaps until after the war, when with her mother she safely returned to Scotland: she is not in sequence. Her brother who did not survive infancy in 1914 is not listed at all. The last of this generation, squeezed in at the bottom, is her cousin, my father.


Apart from photographs, this entry is based on information in the public domain at Scotland’s People and in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) 2011;343:d5081 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d5081

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