Women in medicine

In the 1800s, an Australian woman wishing to become a doctor had a tough struggle ahead of her. Australian men were unwilling to accept women into the profession, and were vocal about their opinions of women who wanted to do so:

...a woman who voluntarily devotes herself to a state in which the abandonment of the domestic qualification seems a necessity, is a being whom men do not love and with whom women can hardly sympathise ...

– Editor, Australian Medical Journal 1860

Russell, E 1997, Bricks or spirit – the Queen Victoria Hospital Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, Vic.

It was not until 1887 that the University of Melbourne Medical School accepted female applicants. Four years later, the first two women – Clara Stone and Margaret Whyte – enrolled and later graduated as doctors. Over the next five years, 12 more women followed in their footsteps.

The lack of female doctors wasn't just frustrating for those who wished to practise. It also had a very negative impact on Victoria's public health in general, as many women let their health worsen because they were too embarrassed to talk to a male doctor.

In 1896 the ten female doctors practising in Melbourne decided to do something about this, and discussed setting up a hospital run by women, for women. Unfortunately, they had the vision, but not the facilities to make it happen.

Eventually, Welsh minister Rev. David Egryn Jones gave the doctors the space behind his church, and the Queen Victoria Hospital was born.

The hospital hired female pharmacists, administrators, dentists and consultants, as well as a predominantly female board. It became the ‘family hospital', extending its work to neo-natal care, child psychiatric services and research.

But as other hospitals expanded their work, there became less need for the special focus of the ‘Queen Vic'. In the 1970s and 80s, it amalgamated with the Monash Medical Centre and moved to Clayton.

By the late 1990s, the original buildings had fallen into disuse and were converted into what is now QV shopping complex. The central tower is all that remains as a reminder of the vision and hard work of the women of Melbourne in their pioneering efforts towards equality in the medical field.

Photograph of the old Queen Victoria Hospital.
Photograph of the old women's hospital, Cardigan Street, Carlton.
Engraving of various scenes from the Children's Hospital.
Photograph of a female doctor and her assistants attending to a casualty.