Sam Hanna Bell Samuel Beckett John Hewitt Bernard (Barney) Hughes James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker William Carleton Rosamond Praegar

Margaret Smith Bell (1864 - 1906):

Margaret Smith Bell was born in a house named Spring Hill, close to the Newry Workhouse where her father was Clerk. Her mother Margaret Bell was the daughter of a farmer from the nearby townland of Carnegat. There were three daughters and two sons of the marriage; Margaret was the second daughter. Elizabeth, the eldest, as Elizabeth Gould Bell also became a doctor and was a prominent suffragette, while the youngest daughter Catherine Emily married Samuel Ledlie, a leading solicitor of a prominent Newry family.

Little is known of Margaret’s earlier years until her entry, following her sister Elizabeth, to Queen’s College, Belfast, in 1887 to read for an Arts degree with the intention – perhaps better, hope – of proceeding to study Medicine; the principal impediment to this intention was that she was a woman. However in 1889 the sisters, together with Harriet Rosette Neill from Belfast, were allowed to do so and with the Belfast Royal Hospital (later the Royal Victoria Hospital) and the Belfast City Hospital (later the Belfast City Hospital) accepting giving them clinical and teaching facilities, a comprehensive course leading registerable qualifications was in place.

Margaret, not as academically gifted or strong-willed as her elder sister, opted to take the Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (LRCPI) and of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (LRCSI), along with the Licence in Midwifery (LM) in 1894, while her sister opted for the more prestigious University degrees of the Royal University of Ireland (MB, BCh, BAO) which she had taken the previous year.

After attending at the Ulster Hospital for Children, and that for Eye, Ear and Throat conditions, though exactly when is not clear, Margaret entered General Practice at 334, Oxford Road, Manchester and was soon building up a considerable practice, mainly among women.  She became a member of the Midwives Supervisory Committee and was appointed Medical Officer of the influential Ancoats Day Industrial School, of the “Grove” Retreat, Fallowfield, and other cognate organisations: in short, she was a professional success.

On 9 October 1901 Margaret married a General Practitioner, Dr Joseph Douglas Boyd, in Warrenpoint Presbyterian Church, County Down. He was originally from Ballymoney, County Antrim, but from 1897 had practised in the Manchester area and at the time of their marriage he was living at 199, Lees Road, Oldham. He had been a contemporary of Margaret at Queen’s College, and graduated from the RUI in 1895, the year after Margaret became registered, and he almost certainly would have known her from those days. After the marriage the couple practised from Margaret’s Oxford Road address. Sadly, illness intervened. In the summer of 1906 they had been staying at the home of Margaret’s sister Elizabeth at her home, 4 College Gardens, Belfast, and for spells at Portrush on the North Antrim coast, seeking benefit for a refractory throat problem affecting Margaret. This was to no avail and after two surgical operations Margaret died in nearby Claremont Street Hospital (13-17 Claremont Street, Lisburn Road). She was interred at Killeavey Graveyard, County Armagh. She had one child, a son in his infancy at his mother’s death, who became a distinguished radiologist, Dr Douglas Priestly Bill Boyd (MB, Queen’s University, Belfast, 1931). He married a local concert pianist and was an enthusiast for scuba diving, if an unlikely one.


Born: 3 July 1864
Died: 21 August 1906
Peter Froggatt

Maud Hamill, Ulster History Circle, for some genealogical informationisotoryHistory Circle,  for some genealogical information


RSJ Clarke: A Dictionary of Ulster Doctors (who qualified before 1901), Belfast, Ulster Historical Foundation, volume 1, pp 71-73 (2013); obituary, British Medical Journal, 8 September 1906; personal knowledge