Charlotte Elizabeth Ferguson-Davie
Pioneering provider of healthcare for women and children
Unusually for women of her era, Charlotte Elizabeth Ferguson-Davie was a highly accomplished medical doctor. Little is known about her early years, except that she was the daughter of a professor, and that she married the Right Reverend Charles James Ferguson-Davie in 1902.
Sometime after the pair was married, they moved to the Far East, where in 1909 Charlotte’s husband became Singapore’s first Anglican bishop.
Her own pioneering medical work in Singapore began in 1913, when Charlotte founded the St. Andrew's Medical Mission, and set up a clinic at 220 Bencoolen Street to provide specialised healthcare for women and children. Recognising that local women were uncomfortable about being treated by male doctors, she enlisted the help of female doctors to care for them. She aimed to meet not only their physical needs, but also what she perceived as their spiritual needs.
Over the next decade Charlotte opened more clinics and, in 1923, she founded St. Andrew's Mission Hospital (SAMH) for women and children. This sixty-bedded hospital was quickly filled, and before long there was a waiting list.
Charlotte then set to work training locals in a new three year nursing and midwifery programme. Because of Charlotte, SAMH became one of the earliest institutions in Singapore to offer courses in general nursing for Asian ladies. In 1924, services within SAMH were greatly expanded to include specialist clinics in addition to general care for women and children. A venereal disease clinic was also opened to care for the women exposed to sexually transmitted diseases due to rife prostitution.
Charlotte’s vision of care and compassion has been enduring. Throughout its existence, the goal of the St. Andrew’s Medical Mission has always been to meet the healthcare needs of society’s most vulnerable.
Charlotte was also an accomplished author. In 1921 she published “In Rubber Lands: An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya.”
In 1927 Charlotte was invested as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. That same year she retired from her work with St. Andrew’s, when her husband’s tenure as Singapore’s bishop came to an end. He then took up a position at South Africa’s Fort Hare College which he held until a year after Charlotte’s death in 1943.
A 1932 Report from the Meeting of Medical Missions in London mentioned Charlotte’s contribution, “Her name will always live in the annals of the medical missionary field. (She) has left a monument in Singapore, in the St. Andrew’s (Mission) Hospital. It will always stand as a wonderful tribute to one of the most plucky women I have ever known.”
"... there was a very wonderful woman in Singapore at that time – Mrs Ferguson Davie… She got to work, she formed a committee, she got the Government to give a bit of land for nothing… and she got a firm of architects to work for nothing… and in 1923 had what I think must have been a wonderful satisfaction to her – a three-storied hospital in the middle of Singapore, in one of the best streets there, and it was opened by the wife of the Governor of Singapore."
British surgeon Mr Dickson Wright paying tribute to Dr Charlotte Ferguson-Davie at a Meeting for Medical Missions in 1932, in London