Isabel Jane Pryer was born in London on 22 September 1834. She was the daughter of Isabel Charlton and Thomas Pryer. On the death of her father she became a governess, and then she met and became engaged to Joseph Thorne, a tea merchant. They were married prior to embarking for life in Shanghai, China, in the mid-1850s. By the mid-1860s the family was back in England again and in the midst of economic crisis Isabel began classes in Midwifery at the Ladies Medical College, in Fitzroy Square, London. The death of one of her children abroad had convinced her of the the need for women to have female doctors. In 1869, just before Joseph began his return to China, Isabel became interested in joining Sophia Jex-Blake in her attempt to have women qualify as doctors at Edinburgh University. She thus became one of the famous 'Edinburgh Seven'.
The 'Edinburgh Seven' were the first group of women medical students at a university in the United Kingdom, though of course Elizabeth Garrett Anderson had studied alone a few years earlier. They fought to study medicine at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and to be allowed to graduate. In 1869 they were allowed to attend specially-arranged classes, but in 1873 they lost a legal challenge against the University after it had decided they could not be awarded degrees. The Seven were: Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell. After this attempt to graduate was blocked, Thorne was one of the women who 're-grouped' down at the London School of Medicine for Women in England.
Isabel Jane Thorne died at home in Harley Street, London, in 1910.