Bloomsbury, Belsen, Oxford: Janet Vaughan - Medical Pioneer

Bloomsbury, Belsen, Oxford: Janet Vaughan - Medical Pioneer


Sheena Evans, Bloomsbury, Belsen, Oxford: Janet Vaughan - Medical Pioneer

Janet Vaughan was a woman of huge energy and passion, who always sought to improve the lives of others. As a doctor and medical researcher, and also a social and educational reformer, she aimed to relieve suffering and to enable people – especially women – to develop and use their talents so as to live fulfilled lives. When young, married, living in Bloomsbury and building a career in haematology in spite of the barriers faced by women in medicine and science, she inspired Virginia Woolf in her writing of A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. At the same time her work for Spanish Medical Aid and membership of the Communist Party put her on the Nazi ‘black list’, and so destined to be executed in the event of a successful invasion of Great Britain.

During the Second World War, she ran the busiest of London’s emergency blood transfusion depots while serving on groups looking at the reform of medical education in preparation for the NHS, as well as the Royal Commission on Equal Pay; and finally making a harrowing trip to the Belsen concentration camp to test a treatment for starvation.

Moving to Oxford after the war as Principal of Somerville College, she continued with research, becoming a leading authority on the effects of radiation on bone. She was eminent within the university on scientific and medical matters, and hugely influential more widely through her work for the Royal College of Physicians, the Nuffield Foundation and the University Grants Committee. Her influence in scientific and educational fields continued after retirement. After her death in 1993, Sir Raymond Hoffenberg, former head of the Royal College of Physicians and president of Oxford’s Wolfson College, called her ‘unquestionably one of the great figures of medicine of this century’.


“Sheena Evans’s thoroughly researched, accessibly written biography reveals one of the most impressive women in twentieth-century Britain. But she is largely forgotten. Janet Vaughan made pioneering, profoundly significant, contributions to medical research and health: discovering the causes of anaemia, the effects of malnutrition, inventing the blood transfusion service in World War 2, revealing the dire effects of plutonium following atomic events. At a time when there were few women in medicine, even fewer mothers like Vaughan, and they suffered extreme discrimination. She actively and effectively promoted women’s rights in medicine and more widely for equal pay, maternity rights and opportunities, including as Principal of an Oxford women’s college for 22 years. While in public roles she improved medical and other services in Britain and elsewhere, becoming internationally famous and respected. Men who achieve far less become public heroes.”

Dr Pat Thane, Visiting Professor, Birkbeck College London

“This is an engaging and illuminating account of Janet Vaughan’s life. The science is made accessible and is so well described that this becomes not just an insightful biography but an account of the amazing rapidity with which knowledge has advanced.”

Dr Pat Starkey, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Liverpool

Ordering information
Sheena Evans, Bloomsbury, Belsen, Oxford: Janet Vaughan - Medical Pioneer, 2024, ISBN 978-1-910481-26-4, £19.99.

Copies can be purchased directly from the publisher using this ordering system and through booksellers and distributors (including Gardners). This ordering system is for print books only and these are despatched through the postal system. Other means of payment for the print version are institutional purchase orders and cheques made payable to the University of Chester. Please email any ordering queries or call +44(0)1244 513305. There is no charge for postage and packing in the UK for this book, but postal charges are applicable for overseas orders. Please note that for books sent overseas, there may be local taxes applied in the country of destination and customs delays. The e-book version (in PDF format) will be available through Google Play and library collections such as EBSCO, Ebook Central and Gardners.

This book will be available in June 2024 and any pre-orders will be despatched on publication.

For more details on University of Chester Press books, please visit:

This product will be in stock on Wednesday 05 June, 2024.

Featured Products