Josephine Bell was born Doris Bell Collier, the second of three children of Maud Tessimond Windsor and Joseph Edward Collier, a surgeon in Manchester. Doris was very fond of her father, who died of cancer when she was seven years old. Her mother was married a second time to Jean Estradier, a French teacher, and had one child by him, a girl named Alice. Young Doris did not get on well with her stepfather, so she was happy to leave for boarding school when she was twelve. She attended the Godolphin School, Salisbury, where she met Dorothy L. Sayers. In Doris’s first year, Sayers was already a senior.
On leaving school in 1916, Doris applied to study medicine at Newnham College, Cambridge University. At college, she took a keen interest in rowing and stroked in the very first Newnham eight. When she went to University College Hospital to do her clinical training, no accommodation for female medical students existed, so she had to sleep in a side ward. At University College Hospital she met Norman Dyer Ball, a fellow student, and was married to him in 1923; four children were eventually born to them.
Doris and her husband went into general practice together in Greenwich in 1927. In 1936, Norman was killed in an automobile accident. After her husband’s death, Doris moved her small family to Guildford in Surrey, where she started a general practice of her own. At the same time, to supplement her income, she decided to become a professional writer. Murder in Hospital, already complete when her husband died, was published in 1937; she produced one or two novels a year for the next half century. She was a founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association. After retiring from medical practice in 1954, she devoted herself to writing, sailing, theatergoing, and community involvement. She died in 1987.