Some Australian women. Part VI. [4 July 1891]

[Editor: This is part 6 of “Some Australian women”, a series of articles on the achievements of women in Australia. Published in The Illustrated Sydney News, 4 July 1891.]

Some Australian women:


(By M. Hirst Browne.)

Part VI.


Dr. E. Constance Stone enjoys the distinction of being the first lady who has obtained registration, in the Australasian Colonies, as a legally qualified medical practitioner. This young doctor is a native of Tasmania, but was a resident of Melbourne when she first decided to make medicine her profession.

The obstacles interposed by masculine conservatism — now happily removed, but at that time (six years ago), in full force — made it impossible for Miss Stone to prosecute her studies in Victoria, so she betook herself to America, being guided in her choice by the fact that, on making enquiries by letter of the London School of Medicine for Women, and the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, the latter replied fully and courteously to her questions, while the former ignored her communication.

After taking her M.D. degree at Philadelphia, Miss Stone became assistant medical physician at the Women’s Hospital, Staten Island, New York ; subsequently taking M.D. and Ch.M. degrees at Toronto, Canada ; and then visiting England, where she enlarged her experience under the clinical instruction given at the Royal Free Hospital, and the New Hospital for Women. At the latter institution she was appointed assistant physician to the out-patients, and in eighteen months won her diploma of Licentiate of Medicine and Surgery at the Hall of the Society of Apothecaries, London. After a well-earned holiday spent in Wales, Dr. Stone returned to Melbourne, where she was received last February by the Victorian Medical Board of Registration, and has already established an excellent, and fast increasing, practice in that city.

Since these sketches were written the subject of the following, Dr. Mary Adela McCulloch Knight, has been cut off in the flush of her brilliant career, at the early age of twenty-five. Cablegrams have been received by her sorrowing parents, conveying the lamentable intelligence of her death by peritonitis, on May 8 last, at Vienna, whither she had gone to complete her gynœcological studies, previous to her return to Australia, or to fulfil an offered lectureship in London.

The deceased lady bore the distinctive honour of being the first Australian woman graduate in medicine of the London University. She was a native of Ballarat, and the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Knight, now Minister of the Brunswick-street Wesleyan Church, Fitzroy, Melbourne. She developed a taste for medical studies whilst attending Dr. Stirling’s lectures at the University of Adelaide, to which city her father had removed.

In 1885 Miss Knight went to England, and entered for the preliminary examination of the London University, whose curriculum she had chosen by the advice of Chief Justice Way. When she arrived, Dr. Ray Lancaster had a preparation class of fifty-three students (all men) in full swing. On Miss Knight begging to be allowed entrance to the class, the following interesting dialogue took place between her and the class-master:

‘We are half-way through the course ; you should have come before,’ said Dr. Lancaster. ‘Where do you come from ?’

‘From Australia, and I only arrived yesterday.’

‘From Australia !’ exclaimed the learned doctor, opening wide eyes of astonishment. ‘Well, that’s a long way to come. Are you alone ?’


‘No friends ?’

‘Only an Australian lady who knows me.’

‘Do you intend to sit for the London Exam. ?’ with increased surprise, asked Dr. Ray.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Well, you are a plucky girl. We will do our best for you.’

And so the ‘plucky girl’ set to work, and six weeks after, went to scan the posted pass list, after the final exam. ; but, looking modestly in the lower ranks, could not find her name, till, glancing higher, she beheld it heading the list, with the highest number of marks. Be it remembered, again, she had only attended the class for half the course, and the others (all men) had possessed the advantage of the whole term.

Two years more of hard work brought Miss Knight her intermediate M.B. degree, and she was again posted first class. Then for thirty months she prepared for the terrible final exam., which extends over three weeks. This she passed not only successfully, but with honours. During this time of study she gave lectures to the new students at one of the medical schools she attended, and was entrusted with the charge of the Royal Free Hospital an entire week by the House Surgeon, who was obliged to be absent on account of a lawsuit. The very day following her attainment of the M.B. degree, this indefatigable student and worker went into residence as House Surgeon of the Hospital for Women, Marylebone. After the lease of the old building expired, the institution had to be closed from February to May of last year whilst the new building was being completed, but the same appointment was offered to Miss Knight in the new hospital. In gaining her L.S.A. diploma she obtained the highest marks for surgery.

Dr. Knight devoted several months to assisting the celebrated orthœepedist, Dr. Hugh Owen Thomas, who wished her to represent his methods in Australia. In addition to her other achievements she won the Helen Prideaux Scholarship, which is awarded to the student who, during her course of preparation extending over four years, in all examinations, and also in clinical work at the hospitals, most distinguishes herself in the opinion of the medical staff, and of a special committee appointed to make the award.

The object of the scholarship is to enable its winner to perfect her studies in gynœecology, and in fulfilment of the founder’s intention, Dr. Knight, after obtaining the B.S. degree at the London University, proceeded to Vienna, and attached herself to one of the hospitals of that city, intending afterwards to finish at the famous Gynœcological School of New York. But in the Austrian capital the hand of God awaited her, and she was struck down in the midst of her beloved, but arduous toil. Beyond the bare fact, date, and immediate cause of Dr. Knight’s death, nothing as yet has been heard, but her grief-stricken father who, with Mrs. Knight, has been looking longingly forward, for many months, to his daughter’s approaching return, and professional establishment in Melbourne after the many years of separation, writes on the sad subject as follows : ‘Last Tuesday (May 26), came a letter from my daughter (then eighteen days deceased), saying — “The Board of the Medical School for Women wants me to begin my lectures in London on June 1, but I have written for more information and a more definite offer.” She expresses unusual confidence in her readiness to undertake the duties if any satisfactory terms be made, and the letter would have set us on the qui vive as to whether she would not decide at once to return to Australia. Not a sign of weakness or fatigue appears, only eagerness for work. The attack must have been sudden, and the occasion for weakness was, I suspect, created at the New Hospital for Women, where she gave nights as well as days to the work, and said in reference to it : “I believe I have taken years from my life by my exertions. I know others would do the duties more easily than I, but my sympathies go out so fully to my patients.” Then three weeks from this exhaustion she sat, with the fever of influenza on her, for the B.Sc. examination, too sick to be up, but with a precious year to save ; so she sat on through the long week, and achieved her degree. A few days after she proceeded to Vienna, and found that her cases generally came on in the night or early morning. And here the record ends. We have no details — no knowledge of the brevity or severity of the attack.

‘I am sure (continues the Rev. S. Knight) that my conclusion is correct, that the New Hospital work was the originating cause of the weakness, which predisposed her to peritonitis, or that relief could not be had instantly in the meagre lodging-house, and half an hour’s delay in such a case is fatal. Domestic comfort is not to be had in Vienna as it is in England.

‘It looks to me,’ continues the grieving father, ‘like the death of a soldier on duty. She was just ready, equipped for the task she had set before her, when the fatal blow fell. And alas ! she went down, and rose no more. Death loves a shining mark. She has it ; but we poor disconsolates — her father and mother — we are to live on in a desolate world till the great restoration comes.’

Dr. Knight’s continuity is said to have been limitless, except by human endurance and the shortness of the days and nights. Her character combined the accuracy of a scientist with the tenderness of a true woman. She was most popular with her patients, in whose grateful love she revelled, and was abundantly rewarded for all her arduous and unflagging toil in the true happiness of a life that delighted in beneficial ministry.

In this young lady’s premature death Australia has lost one of the most talented, promising, and useful of her daughters ; one who has left a record, short though it is, which will ever be held in high honour, and will be pointed to with a mournful pride and lasting regret by her compatriots, whose sorrow mingles in deepest sympathy with that of her bereaved parents. (A portrait of Dr. Knight is not included in this article, as we published one in our issue of April 3, 1890).

Dr. Stella Mary Taylor figures before the world as the first Australian woman admitted to the privileges of the Edinburgh University. This young lady commenced her studies about seven years ago, but the same difficulties in the way of obtaining the necessary instruction existed for her as for Miss Stone, and, like the latter, she left Melbourne (where her parents reside) and sought her first training and knowledge in America. She took her M.D. degree after an extended course at the Women’s Medical College, Pennsylvania, United States of America, graduating with honours. Subsequently she proceeded to Toronto, Canada, where she was appointed senior clinical clerk for a double term to Dr. Nivett, and graduated M.D. and C.M. at Trinity University, with extra first honours.

Dr. Taylor then proceeded to London for further study and hospital experience, afterwards removing to Glasgow, where she received a cordial welcome from the leading members of the profession in that city, finally passing her examination for the ‘Scotch triple’ at the Edinburgh University, with honours, being admitted L.R.C.P., Ed. ; L.R.C.S., Ed. ; and L.F.P. and S.G.C.

It was Dr. Taylor’s intention to return to this country to practise her profession, but receiving by cable the offer of the appointment of Honorary Resident Physician on the staff of the Blackley Hospital, at Philadelphia, she decided to return to America. Before leaving Glasgow, Dr. Taylor was present (in company with another successful lady student) at one of the meetings of the Members and Fellows of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, it being the first time a woman had ever been admitted to such a gathering.

The Illustrated Sydney News (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 4 July 1891, page 9

Editor’s notes:
B.Sc. = Bachelor of Science

Ch.M. degree = Master of Surgery; commonly abbreviated as M.S., C.M., Ch.M., M.Ch. or M.Chir., from the Latin “Magister Chirurgiae” (meaning Master of Surgery)

C.M. = Master of Surgery; commonly abbreviated as M.S., C.M., Ch.M., M.Ch. or M.Chir., from the Latin “Magister Chirurgiae” (meaning Master of Surgery)

disconsolates = those who are without consolation or solace; cheerless, downcast, inconsolable, very unhappy

gynœcological = (gynecological) regarding gynecology (gynaecology), the medical practice dealing with the health of the female reproductive system

L.F.P. = Licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians

Licentiate = a licence or licentiate; a postgraduate diploma

L.R.C.P., Ed. = Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh

L.R.C.S., Ed. = Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh

L.S.A. diploma = Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (London)

M.B. degree = Bachelor of Medicine

M.D. degree = Doctor of Medicine; commonly abbreviated as MD, from the Latin “Medicinae Doctor” (meaning “Teacher of Medicine”)

orthœepedist = (orthopedist) someone involved with orthopedic (orthopaedic) surgery or orthopedics (orthopaedics), regarding conditions involving the musculoskeletal system

peritonitis = an inflammation of the peritoneum (the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen)

qui vive = alert, lookout, vigilant; from the historical challenge of a French sentries “qui vive?” (long live who?), hence “on the qui vive” (“on the lookout”)

S.G.C. = [unknown]

[Editor: Corrected “the sholarship” to “the scholarship”]

Edinburgh Medical Journal, July to December 1921, Oliver and Boyd, London, 1921, pages i, vii-ix

George M. Gould. An Illustrated Dictionary of Medicine, Biology and Allied Sciences, P. Blakiston’s Son & Co., Philadelphia, 1907, page xv [see the list, “Degrees, diplomas, and qualifications”]

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