Dorothy Davison was born in 1890 but unfortunately little is known about her early life. At about the age of 18 Davison enrolled at the Manchester School of Art but her training here was often interrupted and she eventually left without any formal qualifications in order to care her aged and ailing parents. Around 1917 she was able to take a job at the Manchester Museum where she pursued her interest in prehistory and taught Egyptology to children. Her interest in the prehistoric world continued throughout her career and between 1926 and 1951 she published 4 works on the subject.
It was during her time at the Museum that she was introduced to Sir Grafton Elliot Smith (1871-1937), then Professor of Anatomy at the University of Manchester and also a renowned Egyptologist. Smith recognised Davison's artistic skill and invited her to produce some anatomical drawings for him and subsequently encouraged her to pursue work as a medical artist. By 1919 Davison was working alongside Smith's successor Sir John Stopford (1888-1961) and in the 1920s was introduced to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961) with whom she would develop a strong working relationship following his appointment as Honorary Neurological Surgeon in 1926. She created illustrations for a great number of individuals some of the most notable being Professor George Mitchell (1906-1993) and Sir Harry Platt (1895-1972).
The University of Manchester took steps to offer Davison a formal contract as a medical artist in 1939 but the sudden onset of World War Two meant that this was postponed until 1945. Whilst she may have continued to produce some medical artwork during these years there was little work available owing to the changing priorities of many of the medical staff. Instead she spent most of the war years working for the University's Geography Department, both drawing and cataloguing maps.
Throughout her career Davison stressed the importance and value of medical art emphasising the ability of the artist to draw out the obscure and clarify the hard to understand whilst photographs merely copy and demonstrate the obvious. In 1948 she instigated and led efforts to establish the Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain after seeking support from other well-known medical artists including Audrey J. Arnott (1901-1974) and Margaret McLarty (1908-1996). The Association held its first meeting in Oxford on 2 April 1949 and continues to support medical artists today. From the early 1940s onwards Davison was responsible for training a great number of young medical artists in Manchester, some of whose work is present in this collection.
Davison was adept in using a range of techniques but is perhaps most well-known for her use of the ross board technique. The technique was developed by Max Brödel (1870-1941), an artist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and introduced to artists in the UK after London-based Audrey Arnott visited Brödel in 1932 and shared what she had learned on her return. Subsequently Davison was one of the first in the UK to employ the technique and explained why she favoured it thus: "it gives texture better than any other medium, fine lines can be scratched out to show the dead white of the chalk-faced paper and gradations of tone can be obtained quickly" (Perry, 1971). These intricate drawings could take many hours to produce with larger drawings taking even longer.
Davison retired from her role at the University of Manchester in 1957 but continued to play a prominent role within the Medical Artists' Association. She died in 1984.