Doris Odlum – founder of Dorset Mind

Doris Odlum

Doris Maude Odlum © National Portrait Gallery, London

Historical Background

Doris Odlum, the founder of Bournemouth Association of Mental Health – later renamed Bournemouth, Poole and District Mind – was born in 1890.  She went to St Hilda’s, Oxford to read Classics and qualified in medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1924.  At that time, women  began to enter the medical profession in significant numbers, but it was still very much a male dominated profession.

As well as her medical practice, Doris Odlum was an outstanding sportswoman, having rowed in the London University boat against Cambridge – the first woman to do so – and was reserve for the National Fencing Championship team.

Doris Odlum specialised in psychiatry and received her Diploma in Psychological Medicine in 1927.  Soon afterwards, she began a job as psychiatrist at Bournemouth General Hospital.  She also held an appointment at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London.

Doris’ involvement in many organisations

Doris Odlum was active in a number or organisations.  She helped found the Bournemouth Association of Mental Health and was also one of the founders of the National Association of Mental Health.

She was involved in the Samaritans from its inception and became its Life President in 1974.  Doris was also involved in the British Medical Association, as a found member of its Psychological Medicine Group.

One of the achievements of this group was to persuade the government that mental health services should be part of the proposed NHS, and not under the control of the local authority, as was originally proposed.  She was also one of the foundation members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists when it was set up in 1971.

Doris Odlum founded the Bournemouth Association of Mental Health in 1946.  It was around the same time the National Association of Mental Health was set up.

At the beginning it was a forum for doctors and others with an interest in mental health to meet and discuss issues, listen to lectures and watch films.  Only later did the Association develop as a service providing and campaigning organisation.

Introducing the ‘Mind’ brand …

The National Association for Mental Health introduced ‘Mind’ in the 1970s.  Many of the local Associations for Mental Health did not follow suit until many years later.  Bournemouth, Poole and District Mind was still operating as an AMH into the 1990s.

Doris Odlum was an active member of many organisations for many years.  She was President of Bournemouth AMH for almost 40 years.  Less than a month before she died in 1985, she gave a speech to the Samaritans annual conference.  She never revealed to the audience that she was suffering an angina attack as she spoke.

As if all these activities, and her medical practice were not enough, Doris wrote a number of books on psychiatry. 

These included a number on her particular area of interest, Adolescent and Child Psychiatry.  She was also an outstanding clinician, who was very much more interested in the practice of psychiatry than its theory.  In her view, the theory should be bent to suit the patient, and not vice versa.

Bournemouth, Poole and District Mind’s name changed to Dorset Mind in 2005. Amongst her many significant achievements, the founding of Bournemouth, Poole and District Mind may not be the most significant.

However, improving the treatment of people with mental health problems was at the centre of Doris Odlum’s life. 

It remains today the most important aim of Dorset Mind.