Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hope, Laura Margaret (1868–1952)

by Helen Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Laura Margaret Hope (1868-1952), by Vandyck Studios, c1925

Laura Margaret Hope (1868-1952), by Vandyck Studios, c1925

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11283

Laura Margaret Hope (1868-1952), medical practitioner, was born on 3 May 1868 at Mitcham, Adelaide, second of four children of Scottish-born parents George Swan Fowler, grocer, and his wife Janet, née Lamb, both liberal-minded Baptists. Laura was educated privately in Adelaide, England and Germany. Slender, with blue eyes and brown hair, she hid a sense of fun beneath a precise, composed manner. She and her favourite brother James shared strong religious beliefs and a love of reading. On the family estate, Wootton Lea, Glen Osmond, she helped her father to breed leeches for sale to pharmacists. In 1887 she became the first female to enrol in medicine at the University of Adelaide (M.B., Ch.B., 1891); her graduation was applauded by the chancellor (Sir) Samuel Way and by women suffragists.

In 1892 Dr Fowler was appointed resident medical officer at the Adelaide Children's Hospital for a term of twelve months: the board agreed that 'the spirit of the rules of the Hospital will not be violated by the appointment of a lady'. She performed her duties with 'diligence and ability'. Her application to join the local branch of the British Medical Association was 'the immediate cause' of admission for women.

Influenced by Rev. Silas Mead's missionary fervour, Laura experienced a 'call' and persuaded her fiancé Dr Charles Henry Standish Hope (1861-1942) to accompany her to India; Mead married them on 4 July 1893 at Wootton Lea and they sailed for Bengal as self-supporting medical missionaries. Laura dedicated her life to this work and to the care of her husband who was 'often poorly'. She and Charles co-operated with other missionaries, mainly at the South Australian Baptist Mission at Pubna where they began. From dawn 'Dr Memsahib' treated queues of patients at the dispensary and visited women in their zenanas, often cycling in her pith helmet. She was welcome wherever she went. Both doctors learned Bengali and Hindi, and took private patients. Charles won repute for eye surgery. Freed from domestic tasks, Laura occasionally participated in mission work and studied plants. James Fowler administered her ample private income and marriage settlement; in their long, affectionate correspondence she sometimes ended her letters, 'Your little sister Smiler'.

In summer the Hopes usually retreated to the hills, or travelled to England or Australia. Following a European holiday, both studied in England at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1902. Laura then worked at the New Zealand Baptist Mission Hospital, Chandpur, India. They frequently treated typhoid, cholera and malaria cases. In 1907-09 the Hopes practised at the Bengal Baptist Mission at Kalimpong in the Himalayan foothills; they spent a year at Nairne in the Adelaide Hills before returning to Pubna. In 1914 Laura took medical charge of the Presbyterian St Andrew's Colonial Homes, Kalimpong, which housed over five hundred Anglo-Indian and neglected children.

Again in England, in 1915 the Hopes joined the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service and were sent to Serbia where Laura directed a unit that treated wounded soldiers. Captured in November, they were transported to Hungary by cattle truck and imprisoned for two months. They eventually reached England in 1916, recuperated, and resumed work in Kalimpong. Laura and Charles were each awarded the Serbian Samaritan Cross in 1918. That year Laura left Kalimpong with a woman missionary and travelled by pony for two weeks over steep hills, ministering to fourteen scattered Christian 'parishes'; she came back refreshed 'in body, mind and spirit'. After an Adelaide respite in 1922, she and Charles worked at Faridpur, Naogoan and Kalimpong where Laura rejoiced at gaining a resident Bengali evangelist for the hospital compound. They remained at Pubna from 1929.

Laura was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind medal shortly before she and her husband retired to Adelaide in 1934. She managed their Erindale household, gardened, and, during World War II, knitted for soldiers. After Charles died she lived with her niece Marion Allnutt. Laura died on 14 September 1952 in North Adelaide and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. She had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Mackinnon, The New Women (Adel, 1986)
  • Baptist Record of South Australia, 15 Jan 1935, p 8
  • Register (Adelaide), 17 Dec 1891
  • Express and Telegraph (Adelaide), 14 Feb 1916
  • G. B. Ball, The Australian Baptist Mission and its Impact in Bengal 1864-1954 (M.A. thesis, Flinders University, 1978)
  • Fowler papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • Children's Hospital, Board of Management minutes, GRS 1869/1 (State Records of South Australia)
  • University of Adelaide Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Hope, Laura Margaret (1868–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Laura Margaret Hope (1868-1952), by Vandyck Studios, c1925

Laura Margaret Hope (1868-1952), by Vandyck Studios, c1925

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11283