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Alexandra Mary CHALMERS WATSON (née GEDDES) (1872-1936)

Known As
Dr Chalmers Watson
Biographical Details

Dr Alexandra Mary Chalmers Watson, CBE, MD, née Geddes (1872-1936), known as Mona, was a Scottish physician and head of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. She was also the second cousin of Major William Duff Gibbon, an army colleague of Cyril Sladden.

Mona Geddes was born in India on 31st May 1872, the eldest of seven children of Auckland Campbell Geddes (1831–1908), a civil engineer, and Christina Helen MacLeod Geddes (née Anderson). She was educated at St Leonard's School, St Andrews, Scotland.

On leaving school, Mona turned her focus towards the study of medicine, the latest in a lengthy familial interest in the subject. Her maternal great-grandfather, John Ford Anderson, had been a doctor in Peterhead. Her mother had been an early campaigner on behalf of the cause of medical education for women. Through her mother she also claimed kinship to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in England, and her maternal aunt, Mary Adamson Marshall (née Anderson) had been one of the original women admitted to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1871, later qualifying in Paris.

Mona was the first woman to receive an MD from the University of Edinburgh. The same day that she received her MD, she married Dr Douglas Chalmers Watson on 30th July 1898. They had two sons: Rupert and Irvine. After their marriage, Douglas and Mona set up a private practice together in Edinburgh at 11 Walker St, which they shared until 1914.

During the early half of the First World War, women in Scotland had typically worked in the nursing or munitions industries, occasionally running field hospitals and soup canteens or driving ambulances. By 1916, Dr Chalmers Watson had begun to advocate the creation of a corps of women volunteers who could undertake additional ancillary, non-combatant duties; at this time, her brother, Brigadier-General Sir Auckland Geddes, was the director of recruiting at the War Office, and he arranged for his sister to pitch her ideas for the formation of such a corp. On 7th July 1917, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was formally instituted and Chalmers Watson became its first Chief Controller.

Although Dr Chalmers Watson had to resign from the head of the WAAC in 1918 when one of her sons fell ill after an appendectomy, her efforts had already set a precedent. This resignation was noted in a letter of 10th February 1918 from Mela Brown Constable, herself a member of the WAAC: “There is a new Chief Controller WAAC in place of (Mrs) Dr Chalmers Watson who has retired in order to be able to nurse her little son who is very ill.”

Dr Chalmers Watson’s work organising the WAAC was recognised by the award of a CBE in 1917. She died on 7th August 1936.

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