Lucy Wills was the pioneering Haematologist of England. She did extensive research on the fatal macrocytic anemia in Pregnant women and discovered the factor which affects it. By doing so she, not only lifted herself out of the heavily biased social stigma prevalent during those times of women not being suitable for science but also pulled back millions of women and their unborn babies from the death door. She continues to be a lifesaver and an inspiration even after 56 years of her death.
Lucy Wills started her life in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, England, born in the house of William Leonard Wills and Gertrude Annie Wills on 10th May, 1888. She was the third child out of four, in the family. She had an elder brother Leonard, an elder sister Edith and a younger brother Gordon. The Wills were well-off, with the family sickle and scythes business, named ‘Wills and Son’, founded by Lucy’s grandfather, doing well.
Wills was born with the scientific legacy, passed on to her by her great-grandfather William Wills, who was professionally in the field of law but wrote scientific papers also, on meteorology and many other observations. He was also a member of The British Association for the Advancement of Science. Wills’ father also showed a keen interest in science specifically in Biology and Natural Sciences and graduated with a science degree from Owens College, University of Manchester. Her brother Leonard Wills was one of the leading British geologists of his generation.
Looking up to her father Lucy also grew up with a strong interest in science and her education and interest was encouraged by her father. In 1892 the family shifted to Barnt Green. She began her elementary education there, in the Tanglewood school. Then she was sent to Cheltenham boarding school, which was one of the first British schools to initiate teaching science and maths to women, founded by Dorothea Beale, a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. Wills academic records were fine.
Wills passed Newnham entrance in 1907. And took admission in Cambridge’s second women’s college after Girton, The Newnham college. Her elder sister Edith also studied there. The university did allow Women to sit in the examinations but didn’t grant them a degree, back then. She had a major influence of Albert Charles Seward, botanist and Herbert Henry Thomas, paleontologist during her college years. She completed her course in 1911, did not receive a degree but a certificate was provided for the double honors in Geology and Botany. Later in 1928, she was awarded an honorary degree in MA, from Cambridge.
Will’s father and elder sister passed away in the same year, in 1911. She along with her mother and younger brother traveled to Sri Lanka to meet some relatives, later in 1911. From there, Wills went to South Africa in 1914 to meet her friend from back in Cambridge, Margaret Hume, who was then a lecturer in Botany in Cape town. Wills and Hume shared a deep interest in the theories of Sigmund Freud and Wills was thinking to take up Psychiatry for further studies. But when the World War broke out in August 1914, she volunteered as a nurse in a cape town hospital and this led her to take up a further step in the field of medicine.
She returned to England and applied for the ‘London Royal free School of Medicine for Women’, University of London, the first school of medicine for women and got enrolled. The college had strong allies with India. The first Indian woman with a degree of gynecology and obstetrics, Dr. Jensha Jhirad passed a year before Wills from Royal free. Wills qualified as a certified medical practitioner in 1920 as the licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and was awarded degrees of Bachelor of Science and Medical bachelor from the University of London.