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Biographical entry Whitehouse, Sir Harold Beckwith (1882 - 1943)

KB 1937; MRCS 8 February 1906; FRCS 10 December 1908; MB BS London 1906; MS 1908; ChM Birmingham 1925; FRCOG foundation 1929; Hon FACS 1933.

26 October 1882
Tipton, Staffordshire
28 July 1943


Born 26 October 1882 at Ocker Hill, Tipton, Staffordshire, nine miles out of Birmingham, elder son of Michael J. Whitehouse, ironmaster, and his wife, nee Beckwith. He was educated at Malvern College and at St Thomas's Hospital, where he entered with the first science scholarship and in 1902 won the William Tite scholarship. At the London MB BS examination in 1906 he won the Sutton Sams memorial prize for obstetric medicine and diseases of women, and took the gold medal in surgery at the MS in 1908. He settled in practice as a gynaecologist at Birmingham and was elected assistant gynaecological surgeon to the General Hospital in 1908. On the outbreak of war in August 1914 he at once volunteered for active service, was gazetted temporary lieutenant, RAMC on 15 August, and was very soon in France. He served as officer in charge of the surgical division and surgical specialist to No 8 General Hospital at Rouen and to No 56 General Hospital at Etaples. He was promoted captain on 24 September 1915, on the strength of the 1st Southern (Birmingham) General Hospital.

When he returned to Birmingham he at once began to take a leading part in the professional life of the city and the Midlands. He succeeded Thomas Wilson, FRCS, in 1921 as senior gynaecological surgeon at the General Hospital and in 1924 as professor of midwifery and diseases of women in the University of Birmingham, becoming the third holder of this combined chair, the gynaecological component of which had been first held by Robert Lawson Tait. He was also gynaecological surgeon to the Queen Elizabeth and the Maternity Hospitals at Birmingham and consultant to the General Hospitals at Nuneaton and Walsall; the Smallwood Hospital, Redditch; the Guest Hospital, Dudley; Sutton Coldfield Cottage Hospital; Hammerwich Cottage Hospital near Lichfield; and Malvern Hospital; and was particularly interested in the Lucy Baldwin Maternity Hospital at Stourport. He was also consultant to Worcester County Council. In spite of his fully filled days he was always ready to answer a night call from any of his many hospitals, and also had an extensive private practice. His great abilities were matched by the necessary energy, but he was also a man of wide cultivation, seriously interested in entomology, botany, gardening, and music. He was also a keen shot and a man of generous hospitality.

Whitehouse was an excellent teacher, beloved by every generation of his pupils who forgathered regularly at the meetings of the "XV Club", named from his old ward at the General Hospital. He was a foundation member of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, and became president of the Midland Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society. He served as secretary of the section of obstetrics at the Birmingham meeting of the British Medical Association in 1911, vice-president of the section in 1928, and its president in 1936. In 1934 he was president of the Birmingham branch of the Association, and in 1940 was nominated president of the Association for the Birmingham meeting, which however was not held on account of the war. In 1942 he was, all the same, elected president, and had just been re-elected president for 1943-44 at the time of his death. Till he occupied this presidential chair he had not had much opportunity to make his abilities known directly in London, though he had served on the Radium Commission, was a Fellow of the Medical Society of London and had been a vice-president of the section of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Society of Medicine. He was a foundation Fellow of the British (now Royal) College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and served on its council from the start (1929) till 1937. In 1930 he was president of the Congress of British Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Birmingham. He examined for the Royal College of Surgeons (Conjoint Board, midwifery 1924), for the Central Midwives Board, and for the Universities of Bristol, Wales, Sheffield, and Leeds. He was long interested in the British Red Cross Society, became president of the Birmingham branch in 1937 and also, during the war, acting county director and controller in 1940.

In 1913-14, when only thirty, Whitehouse was a Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, lecturing on uterine haemorrhage, and in 1920 he gave the Ingleby lecture at Birmingham on the same subject. He was an excellent clinician, and among other inventions devised a caecal retractor for appendectomy. All his clinical work was based on an active knowledge of physiology, and he was particularly interested in the study of the innervation of the uterus. From 1910 he was a frequent contributor to the professional journals, especially to the Midland Medical Journal, the Birmingham Medical Review, the Journal of Obstetrics, and the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, as well as to the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. His principal literary work, however, was the revision of Eden and Lockyer's Gynaecology for its 4th edition in 1935. He was in America in 1933, was elected an honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons at Chicago, and an honorary member of the Canadian Medical Association, before whom he gave an address on the menopause. In the Coronation honours list of 1937 he was created a Knight Bachelor. During his presidency of the British Medical Association the profession was much exercised about the desirability or otherwise of a State Medical Service. Whitehouse, whose views were the outcome of deep consideration, spoke forcibly in favour of the continuance of individual practice. In his wide knowledge of Midland conditions he had formed a high opinion of the worth and service of general practice in its current form. He was however appreciative and tolerant of other views.

Whitehouse married in 1909 Madge Rae, daughter of Walter Griffith, of The Friary, Handsworth Wood. Lady Whitehouse survived him with two sons and a daughter, Mrs Siviter Smith. The elder son, Peter, was serving in North Africa at the time of his father's death, and the younger, Barry (MA MB BCh), was house surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. Whitehouse lived first at 62 Hagley Road and later at Grey Friars, Pritchatts Road, Edgbaston, and also had a house in the country, at one time in Shropshire but latterly in Monmouth. Here he formed a remarkable collection of British lepidoptera. Whitehouse attended a meeting of the British Medical Association at Tavistock House, London, on the afternoon of 28 July 1943, at which he heard himself nominated president for a second year's tenure. He collapsed in the street on his way back to Euston station, and died within an hour in University College Hospital; he was sixty. He was buried at Lodge Hill on 3 August, after a service at Edgbaston Old Church.

Whitehouse made numerous contributions to periodicals, as stated above; the following are of particular interest:
The pathology and treatment of uterine haemorrhage, Hunterian lectures, RCS Practitioner, 1913, 90, 952-960.
Eden and Lockyer Gynaecology, 4th edition by Beckwith Whitehouse, 1935.
Some aspects of the menopause. Canad med Ass J 1933, 29, 585-592.
Mastopathia and chronic mastitis. Surg Gynec Obstet 1934, 58, 278-286.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 30 July 1943, p 7d, with portrait, 3 August p 6f, eulogies by Sir W Fletcher Shaw, PRCOG, and Countess Baldwin of Bewdley, 4 August p 7b, funeral; Brit med J 1943, 2, 175, annotation, and p 215, memoir, with portrait, and eulogy by Seymour Barling, CMG, FRCS, and p 284, eulogy by Major R D G Vann, RAMC; Lancet, 1943, 2, 209, with portrait; Med Press, 1943, 210, 111; St Thos Hosp Gaz 1943, 41, 114; J Obstet Gynaec Brit Emp 1943, 50, 372-378, with portrait, memoir by Sir William Fletcher Shaw, PRCOG, and eulogies by Countess Baldwin of Bewdley, Cuthbert Lockyer, FRCS, Archibald G B Russell, Lancaster Herald of Arms, on Whitehouse's artistic and entomological interests, and Sir Comyns Berkeley, FRCP and S].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England