Students at the University of Sydney

Early women students and graduates

In 1881 Senate unanimously decided to allow the admission of women, and the passing of the University Amendment Act in 1884 secured the legal rights of women at Sydney University.

The Faculty of Medicine, which admitted its first students in 1883, was the first in Australia to admit women students in 1885.

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View more information and photos about early Medicine students.



Faculty of Medicine

Milestones

1883: The first year that students were accepted for undergraduate training in the Faculty of Medicine which began with one member of staff, Professor Thomas Peter Anderson Stuart, and six male students. On many occasions Professor Anderson Stuart, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine 1883-1920, publicly voiced his opposition to women in medicine and his belief that they were unsuited to its study. 
1885: The Faculty was the first in Australia to admit women when it allowed Dagmar Berne  to enrol in the third intake of 15 medical students. However, hostility towards her caused her to complete her degree in Edinburgh, returning to set up practice in Sydney’s Macquarie Street in 1895.
1888: Iza Coghlan enrolled in the 6th intake of students, the second female student to enrol in Medicine.
1889: The new Medical School building (now the Anderson Stuart Building) opened.
1893: Iza Coghlan and Grace Robinson (later Boelke) were the first female Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery graduates at the University. Their graduation, however, was completely ignored by the press and women medical graduates were to face considerable opposition from the establishment for many years – see examples in the gallery below.
1900: 14 female undergraduate students were enrolled in Medicine compared with 174 male undergraduate students.
  Mabel Graham graduated MB ChM with Second Class Honours, the first woman to gain honours at graduation in Medicine.
1906: The first 2 female prosectors were appointed: Mary Williams (later Burfitt) and Elizabeth Hamilton-Brown.
1909: Mary Williams (later Burfitt), Elizabeth Hamilton-Brown and Elsie Dalyell were the first women in the Faculty to graduated MB with First-Class Honours.
1910: 11 female undergraduate students were enrolled in Medicine compared with 417 males.
1922: Six women Medical graduates of the University founded the New Hospital which later became the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children in response to the difficulty they had in gaining hospital experience.
1939: Dr Ruth Heighway, who had graduated MB BS with honours in 1930, was the first woman Medicine graduate at the University to receive the degree of Doctor of Medicine.
1944: Joan Storey was awarded the University Medal in Medicine, the first woman to have gained that honour.
1970: Nitaya Morris (MB Bangkok) was the first woman at Sydney to graduate Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine.
1999: The number of women Medical students (936) overtook the number of men students (852).
2012: 2,028 female full-time and part-time students were enrolled in Medicine, with 1,573 male enrolments.

Gallery

In the 1880s
Medical students in 1887

3rd year Medical students in 1887, with sole female Medical student Dagmar Berne in the centre, photo, University of Sydney Archives.

Dagmar Berne

Dagmar Berne,
photo, University of Sydney Archives 

Dagmar Berne, 1890

Dagmar Berne in 1890,
photo G3_224_1629,
University of Sydney Archives
 


In the 1890s
 Ellen Maude Wood

Ellen Wood  enrolled in Medicine in 1891.
While she did not complete her degree,
she obtained an MLRCP et LRGS from
Edinburgh and a LFPS from Glasgow,
both in 1897, and eventually established
her own private hospital in Cooroy,
Queensland, in 1910,
photo dated 1898
courtesy of State Records NSW,
Digital ID 9873_a025_a025000043

 

 

Iza Frances Josephine Coghlan in 1893

Iza Coghlan graduated MB ChM in 1893,
one of the first two women Medical
graduates,
photo courtesy of State Records NSW,
Digital ID: 9873_a025_a025000047.
She became the first Sydney
graduate to establish private practice
in her home city.

Grace Fairley Robinson in 1893

Grace Robinson (later Boelke)
also graduated MB ChM in 1893, 
photo, courtesy of State Records NSW,
Digital ID: 9873_a025_a025000049.
While Coghlan had started a year
earlier, Robinson had completed
the course without failing in any year. 
She was nominated for a position at
the Hospital for Sick Children but,
despite excellent references, her
application was rejected:
the objection was 'not against [Dr
Robinson] as an individual but
against the female doctor
in the abstract'. 


A group of women Medical students in 1897

A group of women Medical students in 1897;
rear from left: Lucy Gullett, Julia Carlile-Thomas, Harriett Biffin & unknown; and
front from left: Alice Newton & Ada Affleck (later Hardman),
photo G3_224_2659, University of Sydney Archives.

Ada Caroline Affleck in 1898 
Ada Affleck (later Hardman) graduated in
1898, image from the 'Australian Town
and Country Journal', 29 January 1898,
National Library of Australia.
She was later appointed
Resident Medical Officer at the
Sydney Hospital for Sick Children 
Harriett Eliza Biffin in 1898
Harriett Biffin graduated in 1898,
image from the 'Australian Town and
Country Journal', 29 January 1898,
National Library of Australia.
With Lucy Gullett she founded the
NSW Association of Registered
Women Doctors, and co-founded the
New Hospital (later the Rachel Forster
Hospital for Women and Children)
in 1922 in Redfern.
Julia Carlile-Thomas in 1898
Julia Carlile-Thomas graduated in
1898, photo G3_224_1580,
University of Sydney Archives.
She was also later appointed
Resident Medical Officer at the
Sydney Hospital for Sick Children,
and established the Sydney
Medical Mission. 
Alice Newton in 1898
Alice Newton graduated in 1898,
photo G3_224_1579,
University of Sydney Archives.
She became a GP in Stanmore
 and also acted as medical
examiner for women for various
companiesa and as specialist in
eye diseases at Rachel Forster
Hospital, where she established
an eye-clinic.


In the early 1900s
A group of Medical students in 1900

A group of Medical students in 1900, photo G3_224_1793, University of Sydney Archives.

Dr Mabel Graham 
Mabel Graham

graduated MB ChM with
Second Class Honours,
the first woman Medical graduate
with honours, in 1900,
photo, Centenary Book of
the University of Sydney
Faculty of Medicine.
Lucy Gullet in 1897 

Lucy Gullett graduated MB ChM in
1900, from photo G3_224_2659,
University of Sydney Archives.
She was the first female resident
Medical Officer at the Women's
Hospital in Crown Street. She
co-founded the New Hospital
(later the Rachel Forster Hospital
for Women and Children)
in 1922 in Redfern. 

 Eleanor Elizabeth Bourne

Eleanor Bourne, the first Queensland
woman to study medicine, graduated
MB ChM from the University of Sydney
in 1903. Despite a severe attack of
typhoid fever during the course,
she won honour passes in four of
the annual examinations, photo,
The Queenslander,
2 January 1897,
National Library of Australia. She was the
first woman resident at Brisbane General
Hospital and Queensland's first medical
inspector of Schools, & became assistant
medical officer to the city of Carlisle, UK.

Constance Elizabeth D'Arcy

Constance D'Arcy graduated MB ChM
Hons II in 1904, photo, Sydney Medical
School
Senior Yearbook, 1933. As neither
Sydney teaching hospitals would accept
a woman, she did her residency at the
(Royal) Adelaide Hospital, then
became resident medical officer at the
Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington.
She was a co-founder of the New Hospital
(later the Rachel Forster Hospital for
Women & Children) in 1922 in Redfern.
From 1919 to 1949 she represented the 
graduates on the University Senate, |
the first woman to be elected, and was
Deputy Chancellor from 1943 to 1946,
also the first woman so elected. 

Dr Margaret Hilda Harper

Margaret Harper graduated MB ChM
in 1906, photo G3_224_1365,
University of Sydney Archives.
She
was the first Lecturer in
Diseases of the Newborn at
the University, Medical Director of
the Tresillian Mothercraft Centres,
a Foundation Fellow of the
Royal Australasian College of
Physicians, and a co-founder of the
New Hospital (later the Rachel
Forster Hospital for Women and
Children) in 1922 in Redfern.

Dr Jessie Aspinall

Jessie Aspinall graduated MB ChM in
1906, photo, Centenary Book of
the University
of Sydney
Faculty of Medicine.
She was appointed that year as
the first female junior medical
resident officer at Royal Prince
Alfred Hospital. The Conjoint Board,
however, refused confirmation and
it was only after much agitation
that the Board resolved that
'Dr Aspinall be appointed for
this year, but that her appointment
is not to be taken as a precedent'.


The first 2 female prosectors in 1906

The first women prosectors, in 1906, were from left Mary Burfitt (later Williams), L Day, A Purves & Elizabeth Hamilton–Brown, photo, A Slice of Life.

Mary Burfitt in 1906 


Mary Burfitt (later Williams)
graduated MB BS with First Class
Honours in 1909, photo, A Slice of
Life.
Dr Williams became resident
medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred
Hospital, where an unsuccessful
attempt was made to curtail her
treatment of males. She became
the first woman senior resident
at RPAH.

Elsie Jean Dalyell

Elsie Dalyell also graduated
MB BS with First Class
Honours in 1909
photo courtesy of State
Records NSW, Digital ID:
9873_a025_a025000062
.
She became the first woman to
be appointed to the full-time
academic staff of the Faculty of
Medicine at Sydney University
(as Demonstrator in Pathology).

Elizabeth Hamilton-Browne in 1906

Elizabeth Hamilton-Browne 
was the third of the first three
women Medical graduates with
First Class Honours, in 1909,
photo, A Slice of Life. She was one
of the first women house surgeons
appointed to Sydney Hospital.
Because the Australian Army
would not take women doctors
when war broke out in 1914, she
went to Britain as a ship's doctor 
& joined the British Army,
serving in the General Hospital
in Alexandria. She later worked
in India & Pakistan & was awarded
the MBE for services to the
medical profession.


In the 1910s
The Medicine graduating class of 1911

The Medicine graduating class of 1911, photo, University of Sydney Archives. Two of the three women graduates are pictured; the three women graduates were Emma Buckely, Florence Burke-Gaffney and Margherita Freeman.

1917

"THE EXPLANATION: It has been suggested that the continual dropping of books by students, under the dissecting room table, is not always accidental", from Hermes, May 1917, University of Sydney Archives.

1917

'In Med III, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love", from Hermes, November 1917, University of Sydney Archives.

In the 1920s
The New Hospital

Above: In 1921, six Sydney women medical graduates – Dr Harriett Biffin (MB ChM 1898), Dr Emma Buckley (MB 1911), Dr Constance D'Arcy (MB ChM 1904), Dr Lucy Gullett (MB 1900, ChM 1901), Dr Margaret Harper (MB ChM 1906) and Dr Susie O'Reilly (MB 1905, ChM 1907) – decided to found a hospital of their own which would be run and staffed by women for the care of women and children. This was in response to the difficulty they had in gaining hospital experience. They bought a run down terrace house in Surry Hills and the New Hospital, which was not much more than an outpatients' clinic, opened in 1922, photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 16 August 1967, National Library of Australia. By the end of the first year, there had been 2,421 patients, including 700 children. In 1926, the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children was established in Redfern, moving to Pitt Street, Redfern in 1942. It closed in 1996 as a result of the trend to larger hospitals.

Kathleen Margaret Winning
Kathleen Winnning
graduated MB ChM in 1926,
photo, 1925 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School
.
Her remarkable career in
Paediatrics began with her
appointment as Resident Medical
Officer at the Royal Alexandra
Hospital for Children in 1929
In 1989 the honorary degree
of Doctor of Medicine was
bestowed posthumously
on Dr Winning by
Sydney University.
Marjorie Jean Lyon in 1927   
Marjorie Lyon graduated MB BS
in 1928, photo, 1927 Senior
Yearbook, Sydney Medical School

Dr Lyon served as a resident
medical officer at several Sydney
hospitals & in 1937 joined the
Malayan Medical Service & later
received an OBE for her work in
the evacuation of Singapore
& in the prison, camp &
hospitals in which she served in
Sumatra as a prisoner of war.
She joined the Western
Australian Schools Medical
Services in 1951. 

An Anatomy class in the Medical School in 1927

Two women students in an Anatomy class in the Medical School in 1927, photo P183_1_0283 by Harold Cazneaux, University of Sydney Archives.

In the 1930s
Three women Medicine graduates in 1930

Three women Medicine graduates in 1930, from left, Dr Nell MacMahon, Dr Muriel McIlrath and Dr Wila Rowohl, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 October 1930, National Library of Australia.

Helen Maud Whiddon (later Row) in 1933 
Helen Whiddon (later Row) graduated
MB BS in 1934,
photo, 1933 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School

The

The 'Ladies of Medicine III' in the car outside the Medical School on Commem Day, 13 May 1938, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_18200.

Freida Ruth Heighway in 1930 


Dr Ruth Heighway (MB BS 1930)
was the first woman to gain the
Doctor of Medicine, in 1939,
photo, 1930 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School.

Sinclair (Clair) Paton (later Isbister) in 1938  
Jean Sinclair (Claire) Paton
(later Isbister) graduated MB BS
in 1939, photo, 1938 Senior
Yearbook, Sydney Medical School.
 
Dr Isbister was a pioneer
in the development of hospital and
outpatient services for mothers and
babies, particularly in the area of
childbirth practices and post-natal
care.

In the 1940s
Eileen Scott-Young (later Cammack) in 1941 
Eileen Scott-Young (later Cammack)
graduated MB BS in 1941,
photo, 1940 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School.
 
Captain Scott-Young 
served in the Australian Army Medical
Corps during World War II as the
Pathologist of the 111 Australian
General Hospital. In 1978 she was
awarded the OBE for service to local
government and to health.
 Margaret Raphael in 1940  
Margaret Raphael graduated MB BS
in 1941, photo, 1940 Senior
Yearbook, Sydney Medical School.
 
Dr Raphael was a pioneering woman
in women's health, and was awarded
the OBE.
Joan Fotheringhame Joan Fotheringhame graduated
MB BS in 1942, and was the first
woman to win the prize for
operative surgery, which was
awarded annually by the Faculty,
photo, The Australasian,
8 August 1942, National Library
of Australia.
Elinor Catherine Nicholson (later Hamlin) in 1945
Catherine Nicholson (later Hamlin)
graduated MB BS in 1946,
photo, 1944-45 Senior
Yearbook, Sydney Medical School.
 
Catherine Hamlin, with her late
husband Reginald, co-founded
the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital
in Ethiopia in 1974.


In the 1950s
Grace Warren in 1953 

 Grace Warren AM graduated MB BS
in 1954, photo, 1953 Senior
Yearbook, Sydney Medical School.

Though she was drawn to surgery
as a student, she trained in
obstetrics as women were unable to
study surgery formally in the '50s. In
Korea she developed a passionate
interest in the treatment of sufferers
of leprosy and became a permanent
staff member at the Hay Ling Chau
Leprosy Hospital in Hong Kong.
She taught throughout Asia
on behalf of Leprosy Mission
Australia until her return to Australia
in 1989, when she applied her 
knowledge to the treatment of
diabetic patients ... more.

 Marie Bashir in 1955

Marie Bashir AC CVO graduated
MB BS in 1956, photo, 1957 Senior
Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School.
She taught at the Universities of
Sydney and NSW, increasingly
working with children's services,
psychiatry and mental health
services, & indigenous health
programs. She became the
first woman to be appointed
Governor of NSW, in 2001, and
was Chancellor of the University
from 2007 to 2012.

 

 Yvonne Cossart in 1956

 

Yvonne Cossart graduated
BSc(Medicine) with honours in 1957
and MB BS with honours in 1959,
photo, 1956 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School.

A virologist, in 1975 she discovered
the ‘B19’ virus, which is known to be
the cause of Fifth Disease in
children as well as being a cause of
aplastic anaemia, hydrops fetalis
and acute arthritis.


In the 1960s
Ann Jervie (later Sefton) in 1960

Ann Jervie (later Sefton)
graduated BSc(Med) in 1957 and
MB BS with honours in 1960,
photo, 1960 Senior Yearboook,
Sydney Medical School. She
graduated PhD in Physiology
in 1966 and DSc in 1990. She was
a lecturer in physiology at the
University 1965-73, becoming
Professor in 1992. In 2000 she
was awarded an AO for service to
medical education & to physiology
& research in the field of
neuroscience. Emeritus Professor
Sefton was a Fellow of Senate 
2001-9, Deputy-Chancellor 
2004-8 & in 2013 will become an
Honorary Fellow of the University.

 Diana Horvath in 1967

Diana Horvath graduated MB BS
with Honours in 1968,
photo, 1967 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School.
Professor Horvath was: the first
Community Physician at Mt Druitt
Centre & established the
Community Nursing Program in
all schools; the first to work as
administrator of a
Clinical Division within King
George V Hospital, later rising
to General Superintendent,
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital;
the first female Chairperson of
the NHMRC; & Chief Executive of
the Sydney South Western Area
Health Service.  


In the 1970s
 Professor Susan Dorsch in 1986

Susan Dorsch (MB BS 1958)
 graduated PhD in Medicine in 
1975. Susan Dorsch, a
pathologist, was the first
female Professor in the
Faculty of Medicine,  in 1983,
photo G77_2_0391 dated 1986,
University of Sydney Archives.


In the 1980s
Ellen (Ella) Mary Stack in 1955

Ella Stack (MB BS 1956)
(photo, 1955 Senior Yearbook,
Sydney Medical School)
graduated Master of Public 
Health in 1981. She spent
her early career as a
General Practitioner in
Darwin, becoming the first
Lord Mayor of
Darwin in 1979. After her
retirement from full-time
practice & Council duties,
she was the Assistant
Secretary of the Division of
Aboriginal Health, Northern
Territory & Secretary of the
Department of Health
of the Northern Terrritory.

 Dr Enid Gailbert-Barness

 Enid Gilbert (later Gilbert-
Barness) (MB BS 1950)
gained a Doctor of Medicine
in 1983. In 1999
Dr Gilbert-Barness,
Professor of Pathology &
Paediatrics at the University
of South Florida, was awarded
the honorary degree of
Doctor of Medicine by Sydney
University, photo, Tracey
Schramm,
'The University of
Sydney News',
4 November 1999.

 Dr Wirginia Maixner in 2011

Wirginia Maixner 
graduated MB BS in
1986. A neurosurgeon,
she received the
University's 2011 Alumni
Award for Professional
Achievement,
photo, Alumni and
Friends website 


Today
Kate Hulme 2011

The Dean, Professor Bruce Robinson with Kate Hulme, third year Bachelor of Medical Science student, who won the Dean's Prize in April 2011, photo, Faculty news website. In 2010 she won the prestigious Korner Prize for first place in second year Medical Science.

Professor Elizabeth Elliott

Professor Elizabeth Elliott
(MB BS 1980, MD 1992, MPhilPHlth 2009),
Head of the Australian Paediatric
Surveillance Unit at the Kids Research
Institute at the Children's Hospital
at Westmead, was recognised with a
100 Women of Influence Award by
The Australian Financial Review and
Westpac in October 2012,
photo, Faculty news website.


Information sources


Lis Bergmann, 2013