Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Aspinall, Jessie Strahorn (1880–1953)

by E. Beatrix Durie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Jessie Strahorn Aspinall (1880-1953), medical practitioner, was born on 10 December 1880 at Forbes, New South Wales, only daughter of Rev. Arthur Ashworth Aspinall and his wife Helen, née Strahorn. After the family moved to Sydney in 1887, she was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Croydon, Riviere College, and Miss Gurney's Kambala where she excelled at history; she then studied medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1906).

Her appointment in 1906 as the first female junior medical resident officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital caused a furore when its Conjoint Board refused confirmation. Her father took immediate action: in a long letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 February he drew attention to the injustice of the board's action. There were editorials in the leading newspapers in the eastern States, with a flood of letters to the editors and protest meetings by women's groups. One commentator concluded that 'Miss Aspinall will pass into history as a noble martyr, while the men who threw her out will be bracketed with Bloody Jeffreys, Torquemada and Judas Iscariot'. The board of directors on 2 March resolved that female residents would 'be exempted from attendance on certain cases', and the Conjoint Board resolved that 'Dr Aspinall be appointed for this year, but that her appointment is not to be taken as a precedent'. Her male colleagues in residence presented her with a gold watch in sympathy.

In June 1907 Jessie Aspinall was appointed junior house-surgeon at the General Hospital, Hobart, and in 1908 was resident medical officer at the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, Sydney. She then set up practice at Lyon's Terrace and for a time was school doctor for Scots College. In 1911 she moved to Wyoming, Macquarie Street. On 22 June 1915 at St Killian's Church, Potts Point, she was married by her father to Ambrose William Freeman, a mining engineer living at Taiping, Perak, in the Federated Malay States. In 1916-22 she bore four children and accompanied her husband for two sojourns in Malaya before the family settled in her father's house, St Killians, Potts Point, where she continued to live after her husband's death in 1930.

Jessie Freeman was for many years a member of the Sydney executive of the Victoria League, the National Council of Women and the appeals committee of the Young Women's Christian Association. During World War II she was vice-president of the Darlinghurst branch of the Australian Red Cross Society. In 1941 she gave Berida, her house at Bowral and three acres of land, to the Red Cross; it was used as a convalescent home for ex-servicemen. She had been made a life-governor of the Women's Hospital in 1908.

Jessie Freeman was a devout Presbyterian, had great determination, a fearlessness that 'evoked general admiration', notable professional skill and 'undoubted charm'. She became a legend in the medical world at a time when female practitioners were uncommon. She died of arteriosclerosis at Haberfield on 25 August 1953, and was cremated. Survived by two sons and two daughters, she was followed in medicine by her youngest daughter Jessie (Chantek) Freeman. Her estate was valued for probate at £100,164.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Munro, In Old Aspinall's Day (Syd, 1961)
  • The Women's Hospital (Sydney), Annual Report, 1907, 1908
  • Red Cross News, June 1941
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 5 Dec 1953
  • M. Little, ‘Some pioneer medical women …’, Sydney University Post-graduate Committee in Medicine, Bulletin, 14 (1958-59)
  • W. A. Freeman, ‘An Australian's impressions of Malaya’, Home, 1 Mar 1921.

Citation details

E. Beatrix Durie, 'Aspinall, Jessie Strahorn (1880–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/aspinall-jessie-strahorn-5077/text8469, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 5 December 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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