Sylvia Kema Guthrie (née Hickson) was born in 1897; she was the daughter of Sydney Hickson, professor of zoology at Owens College, Manchester, and her mother was a former student of Girton College, Cambridge. Sylvia studied medicine at the University of Manchester, qualifying in 1920, and received the M.D. with commendation in 1926.
Immediately after qualification she took up junior hospital appointments in London at Queen's Hospital for Children, Shadwell and the Royal Northern Hospital. In 1922 she returned to Manchester and became medical registrar at the Manchester Babies' Hospital. In 1926 she became cardiological registrar in the newly formed Cardiology Department at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI). In thw same year, Sylvia Hickson married Gerrand Guthrie, and they later had two children.
Guthrie's main interests were neonatal and paediatric medicine, and she joined up with Catherine Chisholm at the Manchester Babies Hospital, Cringle Hall, Burnage in 1930 as senior resident medical officer. Chisholm had been making strenuous efforts to run a model maternity and children's hospital in Manchester, and one which encouraged the involvement of women doctors. Guthrie became one of the most important cliniciansat the Hospital, which was renamed the Duchess of York Hospital in 1935.
In 1934 Guthrie became a lecturer in child heath at the University of Manchester. She was also appointed consultant physician at the Duchess of York's, Booth Hall and Manchester Northern hospitals. She later set up a paediatric department at Wythenshawe Hospital and when she retired in 1963, she was recognised as Manchester's senior paediatrician.
Guthrie was very active in professional medical bodies, especially those which promoted the interests of women doctors. She was president of the Medical Women's Federation in 1960/1 and was a member of the Medical Women's International Association. she was chairman on Manchester Paediatric Club in 1950, a member of the British Paediatric Association and served as a member of the national committee of the Spastics Society.