ON International Women's Day, Adrian Bridge is taking a look back at one of the most pioneering and inspirational women to hail from Northwich...

ETHEL Frater (nee Barrow) was born in Lostock Gralam on July 16, 1904, and died after a very long and active life, in her 103rd year, in February 2007.

She was a pioneer in a number of spheres, and came from an ‘unusual’ background. Her father, William, ran a transport and removals business in Lostock Gralam, and sadly died a few weeks after Ethel’s birth.

However, her mother, Martha, was a determined woman, and a suffragette, who made (for then) the unusual decision of continuing to run the business on her own, whilst bringing up four children at the same time.

Ethel proved to be a ‘chip off the old block’, and every inch as determined as her mother.

She was clearly a very clever girl, attending Sir John Deane’s Grammar School, and undertaking a degree in medicine at the University of Liverpool in the early 1920s.

Her academic prowess was clearly shown by the fact that she graduated 2nd in her class in 1925, and was registered as a doctor by the GMC at the beginning of 1926.

A very distinguished and long career in medicine and health care was to follow, though initially (despite her obvious skills) Ethel found it difficult to obtain appropriate medical employment, as a woman, in the UK.

Instead, she had to move to the USA in order to launch her career, becoming an intern at the Women’s & Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.

Here, she successfully completed her internship, before moving up the medical career ladder by becoming a Fellow in pathology and bacteriology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1927.

Aged only 23, Ethel was the first female English doctor to become a Fellow at the Mayo.

Ethel married a South African doctor at the Mayo Clinic, and returned with him to practice medicine in South Africa, in 1928.

Here, Ethel blazed a trail as a pioneering practitioner in health care for the poor, in Cape Town, for over 37 years.

She was in the forefront of birth control campaigns, which aroused the considerable hostility of protestant churches in that country.

In addition, she was involved in primitive efforts at growing locally produced penicillin, using moulds sent from the UK by Alexander Fleming (universally recognized as the discoverer of penicillin).

She was a pioneer in other areas too - she was one of the staff members at St Monica’s Home, the first training school for non-white midwives in South Africa.

She also campaigned for women doctors to be paid the same as male doctors, and for black nurses to be paid the same as white nurses (and all this in apartheid South Africa, where black people lived under the oppressive white Afrikaner regime).

Though Ethel retired to England in 1969, her active life was far from over. She joined the selection board of the VSO, wrote a history of the tea trade, became a volunteer at the Linnean Society, and later became an honorary fellow of the Society (the oldest biological science society in the world) when she was in her 80s.

She lived by herself in a flat in Kensington High Street, London, survived a broken hip when she was 89, flew supersonically on Concorde when she was 91, and was a regular user of the buses until well into her 90’s.

In old age, she reminisced about hearing the drone of the Zeppelin bombers overhead, in Cheshire, during WW1, and recalled listening to the sounds of the Northwich church bells celebrating the end of ‘the war to end all wars’ on November 11, 1918.

Ethel was proud to be a Cheshire daughter of the Edwardian Age, and was also an avid student of politics and cricket, until the day she died - a remarkable woman.