Anne Acheson: An Ulster-Scots Innovator and her Invention of the Plaster Cast

Discover the inspiring story of Anne Acheson, the Ulster-Scots trailblazer who revolutionized the treatment of fractures with her invention of the plaster cast


The world of medical technology has been shaped by numerous pioneers, but few have made an impact as significant as Anne Acheson, an Ulster-Scots innovator who transformed the treatment of fractures with her invention of the plaster cast. Born in Portadown, County Armagh, in 1882, Acheson’s groundbreaking work has influenced the course of medical history and helped to save countless lives. In this blog post, we’ll explore the life and achievements of Anne Acheson, paying tribute to her enduring legacy in the field of medicine.

Early Life and Education

Anne Acheson was born into a Presbyterian family in the town of Portadown, Northern Ireland. Her father, William Acheson, was a prosperous linen manufacturer who encouraged his daughter’s passion for art and learning. Anne was an excellent student, excelling in both academics and artistic pursuits.

In 1900, she moved to London to study at the prestigious Central School of Art and Design, where she honed her artistic talents under the guidance of several renowned artists and sculptors. After completing her studies, Acheson began a successful career as a sculptor, creating works that were exhibited in galleries throughout London and the United Kingdom.

World War I and the Invention of the Plaster Cast

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 marked a turning point in Anne Acheson’s life. As the conflict escalated, she felt compelled to contribute to the war effort, and in 1915, she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), a group of civilian volunteers who provided nursing care to wounded soldiers.

While working in a military hospital in France, Acheson observed the challenges faced by medical staff in treating fractures, which were often caused by shrapnel wounds. The traditional method of immobilizing broken bones involved the use of splints, which were cumbersome and often failed to provide adequate support for the injured limb.

Drawing on her background as a sculptor, Acheson began experimenting with materials and techniques to create a more effective solution. She discovered that plaster of Paris, a material commonly used in sculpture, could be applied to bandages to create a rigid cast that would hold broken bones in place while they healed. This innovative approach revolutionized the treatment of fractures, allowing medical staff to provide more effective care and reducing the risk of complications such as infection and malformation.

Acheson’s invention of the plaster cast was soon adopted by military hospitals and later by civilian medical facilities, where it remains a standard treatment for fractures to this day. Her pioneering work not only improved the lives of countless individuals who suffered from broken bones but also laid the foundation for future advances in orthopedic medicine.

How Does a Plaster Cast Work?

A plaster cast is a hard covering that goes over the area where you broke your bone. It’s made of a special type of bandage that hardens when it gets wet. This creates a hard shell around your broken bone, protecting it and keeping it in place while it heals.

But how does a plaster cast actually help your bone heal? Well, when you break a bone, your body immediately starts working to repair the damage. It sends cells called osteoblasts to the site of the break. These cells create new bone tissue, which starts to grow and fill in the gap created by the break.

But for this new bone tissue to grow properly, it needs to be held in place. That’s where the plaster cast comes in. By creating a hard shell around your broken bone, the plaster cast holds the bone in place and prevents it from moving around too much. This allows the new bone tissue to grow in the right direction, filling in the gap and rejoining the broken pieces of bone.

The plaster cast also protects your broken bone from further injury. When your bone is broken, it’s more fragile than usual. If you were to move around too much or put too much weight on the broken bone, it could cause more damage and make the healing process take even longer. The plaster cast keeps your broken bone safe and secure, so you can rest and let it heal without worrying about further injury.

Of course, wearing a plaster cast isn’t always easy. It can be uncomfortable, itchy, and even smelly! But it’s important to remember that the plaster cast is there to help your broken bone heal faster and more effectively. So if you ever find yourself with a broken bone and a plaster cast, just remember that it’s all for the greater good of your health.

Recognition and Legacy

In recognition of her invaluable contribution to the field of medical technology, Anne Acheson was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1919, making her one of the first women to receive this prestigious honor. Despite the acclaim she received for her invention, Acheson remained humble and focused on her work as a sculptor, rarely discussing her achievements in the field of medicine.

Today, Anne Acheson is remembered as a trailblazing Ulster-Scots innovator who made a lasting impact on the world of medical technology. Her story serves as an inspiring example of how creativity, determination, and a passion for helping others can lead to groundbreaking discoveries that change the course of history.


The story of Anne Acheson is a testament to the incredible potential of Ulster-Scots innovators to shape the course of history and improve the lives of countless individuals. By combining her artistic skills with a desire to help those in need, Acheson was able to devise a revolutionary solution to a pressing medical challenge, forever changing the way fractures are treated.

Her legacy continues to inspire future generations of inventors, medical professionals, and artists alike, reminding us of the power of innovation and the importance of determination in the face of adversity. As we celebrate the accomplishments of Anne Acheson and other Ulster-Scots pioneers, we are reminded of the incredible impact that one individual can have on the world, and the potential that lies within each of us to make a difference.

Anne Acheson’s invention of the plaster cast serves as an excellent example of the ways in which interdisciplinary thinking can lead to groundbreaking advances. By applying her knowledge of sculpture and materials to the field of medicine, she was able to identify a novel solution to a longstanding problem, demonstrating the importance of thinking creatively and embracing new ideas.

In addition to the practical benefits of her invention, Acheson’s story also highlights the significant contributions made by women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Despite facing numerous challenges and barriers throughout her life, Acheson persevered and made a lasting impact on the world of medicine, paving the way for future generations of female innovators.

As we reflect on the remarkable achievements of Anne Acheson and other Ulster-Scots pioneers, we are reminded of the incredible power of curiosity, creativity, and determination. Their stories serve as an inspiration to all who seek to make a positive impact on the world, demonstrating the limitless potential of human ingenuity and the enduring legacy of the Ulster-Scots community.

In conclusion, Anne Acheson’s story is one of remarkable innovation, determination, and lasting impact. Her invention of the plaster cast revolutionized the treatment of fractures and laid the foundation for future advances in orthopedic medicine. Today, her legacy lives on in the countless lives that have been improved by her groundbreaking work and the generations of Ulster-Scots innovators who continue to build upon her achievements. By honoring and celebrating the accomplishments of Anne Acheson and other Ulster-Scots pioneers, we not only pay tribute to their enduring contributions to the world but also inspire future generations to dream big, think creatively, and make a lasting difference in the world around them.

Why not check out other fantastic Ulster-Scots Innovators, James Martin is just one of many with his famous invention the ejector seat,  Annie Maunder who discovered Sunspots, John Boyd Dunlop and his Pneumatic Tyres and Frank Pantridge who inventeted the portable defibrillator!

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