Millie Dove
Matron of the First British Jewish Convalescent Home

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The life of Millie Dove (1886 – 1925) did not begin or end in Leicester but her achievement explains her inclusion. Millie was born in Vilna [See Footnote], the third child of Samuel and Rachel Dove. Samuel, Rachel and their four children left Vilna during the 1880s. Rachel’s brother, Myer Thomas, had set up a furniture business at 36a Humberstone Road, Leicester, the Standard Furnishing Company. By 1891 Samuel had arrived in Leicester and was running the business.

Life in Leicester

At the age of 15 Millie was working as a milliner’s assistant. The furniture business was flourishing but her father’s health was failing. He died in February 1902, aged 41. As it was still some months before Gilroes was open for burials, Samuel Dove was buried at Witton Road Cemetery in Birmingham.

Millie’s mother, Rachel, took over the business, occupying additional premises at 29 High Street, Leicester, as well as at Humberstone Road and Millie came to work for her. Had war not intervened, Millie might have continued as a furniture clerk until her early death, however events dictated otherwise.

Nursing career

By the end of the First World War, Millie was working at Uffculme, Birmingham, a limb-fitting centre treating disabled soldiers. In March 1921 an advertisement appeared in the Jewish Chronicle for a qualified nurse to act as Matron of a Jewish Friendly Societies’ Convalescent Home in Kent. This advertisement represented years of negotiation between the various Jewish Friendly Societies of Great Britain to unite in providing convalescent care for Jews. The negotiations included the payment of 1s 1d (6.5p) per quarter from 20,000 members to provide £4000 annual upkeep.

In April 1921 the appointment of Miss Millie Dove, 35, was announced. Her experience working with wounded soldiers must have been invaluable in dealing with convalescent patients. In 1923 an analysis of patients showed that bronchitis was the most common cause of admission and that more than fifty per cent of patients were tailors, perhaps reflecting the unhealthy conditions in workshops and pressing rooms.
It must have been a daunting task, running the Societies’ first home, under intense scrutiny from both sympathetic and hostile observers but the Home was viewed as a great success, having ‘more than fulfilled the expectations of the movement’.

Early death

Arguments over the financial running of the Home had been rumbling in the Jewish Chronicle for some time, but it was the death of the Matron that brought the Home back into the news in early 1925. Millie had succumbed to ‘congenital cystic kidneys’ aged 39. It is likely that the same condition had caused the early death of her father, aged 41 and sister, Janie, aged 30.

Her body was brought back to Leicester for burial. Reverend Newman paid tribute describing her ‘quiet demeanour and modest behaviour, and … the self-sacrificing spirit in which she discharged her duties of kindness and mercy’. The Friendly Societies Association remarked upon her ‘gentle and unassuming’ manner in ‘achieving one of the foremost parts in the growth and success of the Home’. To be in charge of the patients and staff of a convalescent institution, in a rural Kent village far from home, suggests that beneath the quiet exterior was a determined and capable character who had found her vocation.

Footnote: In the 19th Century Vilna was part of the Russian Pale, an area of land stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea where Jews were legally allowed to settle but with many restrictions. In the 1897 Census there were 4,899,300 Jews living in the Pale but by the early 20th Century large numbers had emigrated to Western Europe and the United States because of increasing hardships and relentless persecution.