Bentham, Ethel (1861–1931), doctor and MP, was born 5 January 1861 in London, second daughter of William Bentham (an inspector, secretary, and later general manager with the Standard Life Assurance Company in London) and Mary Ann Bentham (née Hammond). Her father, a quaker, was also a JP for Co. Dublin, where she spent her early years. Educated at the Alexandra School and College, as a young girl she developed an interest in social work while accompanying her mother on charitable visits in Dublin's slums; she later established a Sunday club for Dublin shop girls. Having resolved to become a doctor as a means of assisting the poor, she studied at the London School of Medicine for Women, and went on to take the licentiate in midwifery of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin (1893), the LRCP, LRCS (Edinburgh) and LRFPS (Glasgow) in 1894, and the MD degree of Brussels University (1895). She also studied in Paris. After a brief period working as assistant medical officer to the Blackfriars Provident Dispensary for Women and Children and as clinical assistant at the New Hospital for Women, she went into general practice in Newcastle upon Tyne, where she remained till 1909. During her time in Newcastle she was an active suffragist, becoming an executive committee member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Having first joined the Labour party in 1902, she was selected as their first female candidate to contest a municipal election in Newcastle in 1907. While unsuccessful, she was on the list of ILP speakers in 1908. On moving to London, she settled in Kensington, where she continued in general practice and worked for a time as senior clinical assistant in the throat-and-ear department of the Royal Free Hospital. At her instigation, the Baby Clinic and Hospital, North Kensington, was founded (1911) in memory of her colleagues Margaret McDonald and Mary Middleton. She became its senior medical officer and at the time of her death was still consultant medical officer.
Continuing her involvement with the labour movement, she became an executive committee member (1910) and president (1913) of the Women's Labour League. Having stood unsuccessfully for a seat on the North Kensington borough council in 1912, she was elected the following year and remained on the council for thirteen years, during which time she consistently addressed the need for improved housing. One of the first women magistrates, she showed a particular interest in the children's courts and the treatment of the mentally ill. She also served as a government nominee on the Metropolitan Asylums Board, where she advocated reform of casual wards. A member of the Labour party's national executive from 1918 to 1931 (with brief interruptions), she was elected MP for East Islington in 1929 after three unsuccessful attempts. Appointed to the select committee on capital punishment and the all-party committee for the protection of coloured women, her speeches in the commons largely reflected her professional and social concerns, notably maternity and child welfare, housing, education, peace, and safety in the workplace. She was a prominent member in Society of Friends circles in London, and an executive member of both the Fabian Society and the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations. She published several articles on women and children's health. She died in her home in Beaufort St., London, 19 January 1931.