Mary Ellen Foster was born on 24 July 1893 to Joseph, a coal miner and his wife Margaret. They lived in Rainford – a small village in the North West of England; and Mary Ellen was the sixth born of fourteen children. On the 1911 census we find 17 year old Mary Ellen in service at a farm. Five years later she enters nurse training at the Prescot Union Infirmary, the hospital associated with Prescot workhouse and the forerunner of Whiston Hospital. I imagine she had seen an advert something like the one below.
In 1920 she moved to Gloucester to commence midwifery training and later moved to London. We have the privilege of seeing her nursing register entries, reporting Mary Ellen as a hard-working nurse, popular with staff and patients. My favourite entry though is from September 1922 that reports her as “lacking in courtesy towards the honorary secretary and committee”. I am going to assume that this identifies her as being brave enough to question her superiors; a bold move for a woman from such humble beginnings.
At the end of 1924 Mary Ellen leaves nursing to enter a course of massage training. This indicates her move to the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics, the organisation that twenty years later will become the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
On 3rd May 1930 Mary Ellen, 36, married John Henry Philo, her occupation detailed as Masseuse at the Orthopaedic Hospital. They marry in Stanmore so I assume the Orthopaedic Hospital is the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
Over the next six years Mary Ellen and John David have three children together, all boys, David John, Harold Joseph and Paul. Sadly, in what must have been particularly difficult for Mary Ellen to bear with all her training, Harold dies at just five years of age having contracted septicaemia from a bone infection.
On 19th July 1949 John Henry died from a cerebral haemorrhage.
As far as I can tell Mary Ellen continued to work until at least 1937, maintaining her registrations for nursing and the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics. She died in 1988, aged 95 from a stroke.