Ireland’s Greatest Woman Inventor finalist – Dorothy Stopford Price, tackling TB

5 Jul 2013

Dr Dorothy Stopford Price. Photo via Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Heritage Centre Blog

Ireland officially recognised tuberculosis (TB) as an epidemic in 1841 and the disease peaked in 1904, when 16pc of all deaths were attributed to the infection. One fighter in the battle to eradicate TB was Dorothy Stopford Price, who introduced the BCG vaccine into Ireland.

Born Dorothy Stopford in Dublin in 1890, she attended St Paul’s Girls School in London and then Trinity College Dublin, where she graduated with a BA in 1920, BAO (Bachelor in Midwifery), BCh (Bachelor in Surgery) and MB in 1921.

After graduation, Stopford married barrister and district justice Liam Price in 1925 and worked as a dispensary medical officer in Co Cork. She obtained an MD in 1935.

By this time, Ireland’s TB epidemic had begun to cease, yet it wouldn’t be until 1950 before it stopped being the country’s most pressing public health problem.

One intervention in those days before effective antibiotics that had not yet been tried was the BCG vaccine. The vaccine, a live weakened strain of the TB bacterium, Mycobacterium bovis, had been developed by French researchers Leon Calmette and Camille Guerin, between 1906 and 1924.

BCG vaccination of children results in a 60-80pc decrease in the incidence of the disease, studies have shown.

Stopford Price introduced BCG vaccination to Ireland in 1937, vaccinating infants in St Ultan’s Hospital, Dublin.

Her work with the BCG helped its eventual rapid rollout after the Irish Government adopted it in the late 1940s.

In addition to her BCG work, Stopford Price researched and published on tuberculosis in children, including an MD thesis (1935) on ‘The diagnosis of primary tuberculosis of the lungs in childhood’, and articles in journals such as the British Medical Journal, British Journal of Tuberculism, Archives of Disease in Childhood, Tubercle, and the Irish Journal of Medical Science.

She also wrote a standard textbook on childhood TB, corresponded with other international experts, and was instrumental in establishing the Irish Anti-Tuberculosis League in 1942. This provided the impetus for a more effective TB policy in Ireland.

Stopford Price became an acknowledged international expert on childhood TB, and founder as well as honorary secretary of the Irish league.

In 1948, Minister for Health Noel Browne appointed a consultative medical committee of tuberculosis experts chaired by Stopford Price. This committee decided to create a national BCG committee and to proceed with mass vaccination.

St Ultan’s clinic served as headquarters of the BCG committee, and the committe’s first report in 1949 was explicit:

“The initiation of BCG vaccination will always be linked with the name of Dr Dorothy Price. Due to her conviction of the value of this preventative measure and to her individual endeavour sufficient clinical evidence was made available to her in her work in St Ultan’s Hospital to warrant the adoption of BCG vaccination on a larger scale in Ireland.”

Stopford Price lessened her active work in the fight against TB in 1950, due to ill health. She died four years later, from a stroke-related illness.

To vote for Price as Ireland’s Greatest Woman Inventor, click here.

Read about the other finalists in our Ireland’s Greatest Woman Inventor competition:

Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli

Lilian Bland

Agnes Clerke

Phyllis Clinch

Margaret Lindsay Huggins

Cynthia Longfield

Kathleen Lonsdale

Annie Maunder

Alicia Boole Stott

With thanks to Mary Mulvihill of Ingenious Ireland for providing the material for this profile from her book Lab Coats and Lace (2009).

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths