Papers of Ian Donald, obstetrician and developer of ultrasound, Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

Includes papers on the following topics: biographical and personal; lecture notes; files re publications and conferences; subject files re: natural family planning; pro life campaigning; and miscellaneous subjects (4/29-36); correspondence; Mrs Alix Donald’s papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ian Donald was born in Cornwall on 27 December 1910. His father John Donald was a doctor and his mother, Helen Barrow Wilson was a noted amateur pianist. As John Donald was in poor health, the family moved to South Africa in 1925. In less than two years both of John and Helen died, effectively leaving Ian at the age of 16 as the head of a family of four teenagers. He had attended Fettes College in Edinburgh before moving to South Africa. There he attended the Diocesan College, Rondebosch. He entered the University of Cape Town aged 16 and graduated with a first class BA. All four Donalds returned to the UK in 1931. Ian studied medicine at St Thomas’s Medical School in London, graduating in 1937. In the same year he married Alix Richards whom he had first met in South Africa. They had four daughters. During the Second World War he served as a medical officer with Coastal Command of the RAF and was awarded the MBE. After demobilisation, he held positions at the Chelsea Hospital for Women and at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. In 1952 he became Reader in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Hammersmith Hospital, London.

Between 1954 and 1976 Donald held the Regius Chair of Midwifery in Glasgow. One of his great achievements as Professor of Midwifery was to secure the construction of the Queen Mother’s Hospital, a maternity hospital built alongside the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill. This opened in 1964. He is best known for his pioneering work on ultrasound (which he preferred to call sonar). This began in 1955 with the support of Babcock & Wilcox, boilermakers, who allowed him to experiment with industrial ultrasound equipment. Preliminary findings were published in 1958. Thereafter he was much in demand as a conference speaker and guest lecturer. He was also an outspoken spokesman for the Pro-Life cause. Towards the end of his life, he undertook research on the electronic detection of the pre-ovulatory state in women, in the hope of making natural family planning possible. He had a long term heart condition and underwent major surgery in 1961, 1969 and 1975. Prof and Mrs Donald retired to Essex. He died of cardiac failure on 19 June 1987.


Arranged in series.

Access Information

Some files had been closed as per the Data Protection Act (1998).

Other Finding Aids

A paper based finding aid can be located in the searchroom.

Appraisal Information

Appraised according to standard GB 0812 procedure.


No further accruals expected.

Related Material

GB 0812 HB112, Records of the British Medical Ultrasound Society, professional organisation, GB.