What Price the Children? The Work of Dorothy Price among the Dublin Poor

The School of Medicine 1711–2011, 7 April – 2 October 2011 T

As the city of Dublin commemorates the events of August 1913, the industrial dispute which led to the Lockout, the Library takes the opportunity to focus on one of the principal underlying causes of the unrest, the degrading levels of poverty experienced by the poorest citizens of Dublin. It was children who bore the brunt of this poverty, and who continued to live, and die, in the most abject circumstances long after the dust settled in 1913. Well into the 1930s the Dublin slums were notorious, disease-ridden sumps in which a high percentage of the population lived in one-roomed accommodation; the infant mortality rate, and the rate of tuberculosis (TB) infection, were much higher there than in anywhere else in Western Europe.

Dorothy Stopford Price was a graduate of Trinity College’s medical school. Her master’s thesis was on childhood TB and she devoted her entire professional life to the well-being of the poorest children of Dublin, working mostly in St Ultan’s hospital. An exhibition highlighting her life’s work has been curated by Darragh O’Donoghue of M&ARL and is currently on view in the Long Room.

Price made her professional reputation through her research in Germany, Austria, and Sweden into TB and BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, which prevented TB). She believed the disease was a ‘closed book’ in Ireland due to ‘the fact that doctors in Ireland did not read or visit German-speaking centres’ (Dictionary of Irish Biography). Price studied under Dr Wassen, who introduced BCG with great success in Sweden and it was Price who brought the BCG to Ireland. Included in this exhibition is the envelope in which it first arrived.

Price’s work was recognised by Dr Noel Browne, minister for health, when the National BCG Centre was located at St Ultan’s in 1949, with Price as its first chairman.

M&ARL has a very full collection of Price’s professional papers, including her correspondence with Dr Wassen and the notes she took during her visits to medical institutions in Europe.

Jane Maxwell