Students at the University of Sydney

Early women students

Iza Frances Josephine Coghlan

Iza Frances Josephine Coghlan, while the second female student to have enrolled in Medicine, was one of the first two female Medicine graduates at the University, in 1893.


Her early years

Iza Frances Josephine Coghlan, who went by her second given name Frances, was born in 1868 in Redfern, NSW, the eighth of nine children of Thomas Charles Coughlin and Dorcas Jordan. Her father was a plaster who emigrated from Ireland.

She attended the (Sydney) Girls' High School from 1883 when it opened with the 39 pupils who passed the first entrance examination. The top six girls were awarded scholarships, and Frances came 6th.

She passed the matriculation exam for the University of Sydney held early in In 1887.

Her student days at the University of Sydney

Coghlan passed 1st year Arts in 1887 and then enrolled in 2nd year Medicine in 1888 in the 6th intake of students. She was the only woman in the 20 students, and only the second female student to have enrolled in Medicine.

Coghlan shared Dr Milford's Prize for proficiency in Surgery in 1889 and passed with credit in the subjects for the final exam for Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in December 1892.

In April 1893 the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery were conferred upon her and on Grace Robinson at the annual commemoration, the first two female Medicine graduates at the University. While Grace had started the course a year later than Frances, she had completed the course without failing in any year. Their graduation, however, was completely ignored by the press.

Iza Coghlan in 1893

Iza Coghlan in 1893, photo courtesy of State Records NSW, Digital ID: 9873_a025_a025000047.

Her career

Dr Coghlan commenced medical practice in 1893 in Liverpool Street, Hyde Park.

The following year, in 1894, she was appointed by the AMP Office as medical referee to examine women applicants for insurance.

In 1910, she was selected for the position of consulting physician for the Federal Public Service for the examination of candidates for admission to the public service, as she had been engaged since 1894 on similar work, i.e. examining female candidates for life insurance. She would devote a portion of her time to this work.

Dr Iza Frances Josephine Coghlan

Dr Iza Frances Josephine Coghlan, photo, Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine.


During her career, she held a number of voluntary positions, including:

  • honorary medical officer to the Balmain Ladies' Swimming Club - in 1895, a life-saving class was formed under her supervision, the first ladies' class formed in NSW. At the Club's first carnival, a squad of club members, under Dr Coghlan, gave a life-saving exhibition, and she was presented with a 'with a handsome gold brooch, on behalf of the committee, as a recognition of that lady's valuable services to the club'.
  • honorary secretary to the Field Botanists' Society of NSW.
  • President of the NSW Medical Women's Society, which was founded in the early part of the 20th century; it lapsed in 1908, but was revived in 1929.


She also gave lectures, for example:

  • in 1901, the executive of the St John Ambulance Association appointed her to lecture to 'first aid' and 'home nursing' classes.
  • she delivered the inaugural lecture on Household Remedies at the YMCA Hall, under the auspices of the Ladies' Sanitary Association; she touched on the 'symptoms and early treatment of fevers, maladies of the respiratory and digestive systems, and a variety of minor ailments, giving simple directions as to remedies which may be used in the absence of a medical man, or rather, until he can be sent for'.


She later became a schools' medical officer in the medical branch of the Education Department. In 1922, she was a delegate at the Second Australian Conference of School Medical Officers at the Education Department. Her work included carrying out a medical inspections at schools in NSW, e.g. in 1927, she inspected schools in Broken Hill.

She never married, retired from the NSW Public Service in 1930 and died in 1946.


Information sources
  • National Library of Australia historic newspapers
  • Spectrum, Journal of the Melbourne University Medical Students, 1884-1984