Lives of the fellows

Margaret Mary Henderson

b.13 November 1915 d.16 August 2017
OBE(1976) MB BS Melbourne(1938) MD(1941) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1970) Hon DSc Melbourne

Margaret Mary Henderson was the first woman to be appointed as an honorary physician to outpatients at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. She was born in Melbourne during the First World War, the first child of Kenneth Thorne Henderson, an Anglican clergyman, and Charlotte Mary Henderson née Tickell. A year after her birth, in 1916, her father enlisted as a chaplain and served in France on the Somme until 1918. After the war, the family moved to Adelaide, where Kenneth was an assistant chaplain and teacher at St Peter’s College. In 1923, her parents went to the UK so her father could study at Oxford and Margaret was left in the care of her maternal grandmother in Kew, Melbourne. She attended the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in South Yarra, where she won a scholarship.

In 1927, her father became a leader writer for The West Australian and the family moved to Perth, where Margaret was enrolled at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College. At the age of 16, she won the university medal for the best essay in leaving honours and was awarded a government university exhibition. Deciding on a career in medicine, in 1932 she repeated her leaving honours in order to take Latin, a prerequisite for the medical course. In 1933, she took a year of science at the University of Western Australia and then transferred to the University of Melbourne to study medicine. She gained her MB BS in 1938 and an MD in 1941.

From 1941 to 1942, she served as a captain with the Australian Military Forces. In late 1945, she was recruited by the Red Cross and was posted to Malaya as a senior medical officer caring for patients with nutritional deficiencies and tropical diseases. She continued her work for the Red Cross in London and Switzerland and developed an interest in respiratory and thoracic medicine.

In 1947, she passed her MRCP and made her way back to Australia working as a ship’s doctor on the Ormonde. In Melbourne, she became the first female honorary physician at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a post she held until 1975, when she became a specialist physician there. She was also a consultant physician at the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and vice president of the Royal District Nursing Service and a member of their management committee for 18 years. In 1976 she was awarded an OBE.

She retired from medical work in 1982, and spent her retirement supporting good causes and writing about her career and family history. Her publications included A Williamstown doctor: Edward Garland Figg 1815-1902 (Parkville, 1997) and Perspectives, cursory and clinical: some memories of a Melbourne physician (1999). She also edited The journey to Gallipoli: First World War letters and records of Rupert and Alan Henderson (Parkville, HelassInk Publishing, 2004).

RCP editor

[The University of Melbourne Dr Margaret Mary Henderson https://mdhs.unimelb.edu.au/engage/community/awards-and-honours/dr-margaret-mary-henderson-obe – accessed 14 June 2018; The Australian Women’s Register Henderson, Margaret Mary (1915-2017) www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0239b.htm – accessed 14 June 2018; Sydney Morning Herald 5 September 2017 www.smh.com.au/national/doctor-paved-new-ground-for-women-20170905-gyb48c.html – accessed 14 June 2018]

(Volume XII, page web)

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