Dora Colebrook was born in 1884 in Guildford, Surrey and the family moved to Bournemouth when her father died in 1896.
Dora studied at the Royal Free Hospital in London, obtaining her MB in 1915 and then a MD from the University of London in 1919. She then moved to Jesse’s Hospital in Sheffield as a gynaecologist before moving to Cambridge. In 1919 the Street Directory gives her address in 11 Newman Terrace, Cambridge.
Like other women doctors before her she played an active part in community affairs. The Cambridge Independent Press, Friday 12 December 1919 reported on the 77th Annual meeting of the Cambridge Home of Mercy (Female Refuge). They paid tribute to two doctors, Mrs Bowen and Dr Colebrook who had helped care for women and girls there during a severe epidemic of influenza. Dr Colebrook had recently taken over the medical practice of Dr Milne also a women doctor in Cambridge and took over this doctor’s role as the Honorary Medical Officer of the refuge. The work of the refuge was to help destitute women by giving them training in domestic work so that they could obtain work. Some had also gone on to marry.
The Cambridge Daily News on 20th February 1920 stated that she was honorary physician of the Shelter for Girls at 14 Downing St Cambridge.
Speaking in 11th December 1920 at a meeting of the Cambridge Branch of the National Council of Women, she spoke of her personal concern about the future of the voluntary contribution system in hospitals. She believed that patients’ contributions should be according to their means and the payments of the rich would balance those of the poor.
At some point Dr Colebrook moved to North Islington to run the Islington Infant Welfare Centre at Manor Gardens. The use of light treatment, a widely popular treatment in the 1920s and 1930s was practised there. In 1925, Colebrook moved into research, after an introduction by her brother the bacteriologist Leonard Colebrook to the MRC. She was subsequently appointed secretary to the MRC’s Clinical and Biological Sub-Committee to the Committee on the Biological Actions of Light, to investigate its effectiveness. Despite her own enthusiasm for the treatment while working at the Islington Centre, her medical research could not find any scientific benefit for it. When her research was published it caused an outcry, as it discredited the accepted wisdom of the medical profession and also jeopardised the commercial interests of light equipment manufacturers. Dora Colebrook was personally criticised for her findings and this controversy continued into the late 1940s.