Ebeth Scobbie (1914-1994)

“Ebeth” is a relatively unusual contraction of Elizabeth, compared to the more familiar Beth, Bess, Bet, Betty, Lisa, Liza, Liz, Lizzie, Libby, Lily, Elspeth, Elspet, Ellie and even Lizbet… Normally, for a favourite family name like Elizabeth, close relatives would have differentiating versions, but the Scottish Scobbie family seemed to like “Ebeth”: using it for aunt and niece. It’s not clear if this is because the younger Ebeth’s birth and early childhood occurred while her aunt was in Smyrna, or not. I believe her grandmother (born Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson) was called Eliza, and also by her middle name.

I like this portrait – I think there’s a little bit of attitude. More on the hairstyle below.

Ebeth Scobbie with a 1920s earphones hairstyle.
Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson Scobbie, later Dr Scobbie and Mrs Barr.

My memories of Ebeth contextualise her as being one of the four sisters of my father. From my perspective it was rather surprising that “sisters” could be silver-haired pensioners (them being half a century older than me). They were impressive, kindly, and had natural authority. More surprisingly perhaps, I was under the impression that my aunts were English, partly because two (had) lived there, but just as much from their posh accents. In fact, all were just speaking “1920s Laurel Bank”, an accent that was decidedly not like popular conceptions of urban Glaswegian, or of people I knew. 

One of Ebeth’s watercolours

The hair is I think in an early 1920s earphones hairstyle, and this is a particularly fine example, going by how long it took me to find that moniker linked to any suitable photos online. (Pinterest didn’t help much, though of course there were lots of pictures). If you want to copy Ebeth’s lovely picture, or any other original work from this site, please do respect the Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC-SA license issued by me, James M Scobbie. You can see Ebeth wearing the same hairstyle, and photos of her sisters, in a set of photographs of Laurel Bank School hockey teams.

I have a little watercolour painted by Ebeth, who was a talented artist. Some of her other relatives, aka my cousins, are likewise blessed. The inheritance of artistic interest and ability in the various (sometimes subtly-different) visual modes would be an interesting topic to explore, I am sure. You need a good eye, a good brain, a good hand, as well as interest, knowledge and practice. Me? I like a good graph.

Ebeth graduated in medicine in 1938 and became a consultant pediatrician with a research degree, and published two scientific papers I know of. Thanks to digitisation of academic journals (with free access), you can read a rather nice wartime research paper on the treatment of head lice with various oils and chemicals (cited as recently as 1991 and 2001 in two PhDs, and in 2008 in a systematic review), and another in paediatrics. See below.

Surely she was inspired by both her mother’s brothers, who had graduated with medical degrees from Glasgow University (“Jack” and William Stevenson). Her namesake (and her aunt) Ebeth‘s husband Dr David McKenzie Newton had also been a doctor. William Stevenson in particular was high profile. As a bacteriologist, and with an M.D. research degree, he had published a “Preliminary report on the killing of rats and rat fleas by hydrocyanic acid gas” in 1910. through his work in the Indian Medical Service from 1906. He was Director of the Pasteur Institute of India, Kasauli, from 1922–24. Perhaps Ebeth corresponded with him about her own research (including the head-lice research, which was published six months before he died).

Her generation had several close relatives who were medics. Three cousins, two on the Stevenson side (Bill b. 1912, Audrey b. 1920), and Elizabeth Mitchell (b. 1916) on the Scobbie side, as well as her little brother Jim (my father b.1920). These three women and two men qualified as medical doctors in the 1930s and 40s.

Here is her Glasgow Herald obituary (Aug 1994).

Dr. Ebeth Barr [Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson Scobbie] has died in … Cheltenham …

The third daughter of the late George [George Hill Scobbie 1881-1961] and Bertie Scobbie [Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson 1883-1949] of Dunglass, Manse Road, Bearsden, she was educated at Laurelbank School and graduated MB, ChB at Glasgow University in 1938. She then specialised in paediatrics, achieving the DCh and receiving her MD in 1942.  She served at Newcastle Infirmary, then as a consultant at Yorkhill. She also had experience in general practice and married the late William A[lexander] Barr, also of Manse Road, Bearsden, in 1947 [sic, it was 1949]. She then moved to Cheltenham, where she pioneered a wheelchair and supported the Cheltenham Association for the Transport of the Disabled. She is survived by her son, John and her grandson, Blake.

In the Medical Register of 1942, her address was given as 56 Manse Road (Dunglass, her parents’ house, telephone number Bearsden 0360), and it adds that she was initially at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, then a House Surgeon at the Royal Samaritan Hospital for Women, then House Physician at Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow. The student register adds that she was registered as a student on 17 Jan 1934.

  • Elizabeth B.S. Scobbie (1942) Haemorrhagic disease of the newborn. Archives of Disease in Childhood 17(92), pp. 175–186 [link and [pdf]
  • Elizabeth B.S. Scobbie (1945) Substances used in treatment of pediculosis capitis. British Medical Journal 4394, pp. 409-412. [link]

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