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Edis, Margaret Dorothy (Dot) (1890–1981)

by Deborah Gare

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Margaret Dorothy (Dot) Edis (1890-1981), nurse, was born on 19 April 1890 at Kyabram, Victoria, second child of John Edwin Edis, a London-born house-painter, and his wife Hannah, née Menzies, from Scotland. The family moved to Kalgoorlie in 1896. Educated at local state and high schools, `Dot’ began training as a nurse at Coolgardie Hospital in 1911. On her first day the matron told her `you’ll never make the grade’ and next morning forced her to remain in the nurses’ dining room until she had eaten her porridge. Finding herself often in strife as she rebelled against the discipline and the Spartan environment, she transferred to Kalgoorlie Hospital and completed her training in December 1914.

On 10 August 1915 Edis was appointed a staff nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force. Sailing immediately for the Middle East, she was attached to an auxiliary hospital in Egypt before moving to the Western Front in April 1916. She worked in British and Australian hospitals and the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station and rose to the rank of sister in October 1918. Her AIF service ended in Perth on 9 December 1919.

After working for five years at the Anzac Hostel for repatriated soldiers at Freshwater Bay, Edis commenced a refresher course in the nursing of women and children at Fremantle Hospital. One night she assisted in the delivery of a premature baby, who subsequently died. Shocked by the experience, she embarked on training in midwifery and child welfare under Matron Agnes Walsh at King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, Subiaco. She took charge of the postnatal ward and specialised in caring for premature babies. In 1938 she adopted an undersized boy to whom she had taken a `grand fancy’ and named him Reginald.

Called up in July 1940 for full-time duty in the Citizen Military Forces (and later in the AIF), Edis served as principal matron, Western Command (Western Australian Lines of Communication Area) until April 1943. Under wartime manpower regulations she returned to KEMH. In January 1948 she was appointed matron of the Home of Peace, Subiaco. Finding that conditions were deplorable, she confronted the home’s all-male management committee and insisted on urgent and sustained improvements. She promised to stay for two years but remained for eighteen.

Small (5 ft 2½ ins or 159 cm), with fine features and a clipped voice, Edis was remembered by a wartime colleague as `brisk, eager and capable’. Her nurses considered her `a strict disciplinarian’ but `fair’. As president (1945-50) of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Trained Nurses’ Association, Edis helped to establish (1949) the College of Nursing, Australia. She was also State president of the Trained Nurses’ Guild (1947-49) and of the Australian United Nurses’ Association (1949-53), and served (1943-53) on the Nurses’ Registration Board. In 1953 she was presented with Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal and in 1954 was appointed MBE. The International Committee of the Red Cross awarded her the Florence Nightingale medal in 1965. Next year she retired. She eventually moved to Swan Cottage Homes, Bentley, and then to the Home of Peace. Survived by Reginald, she died there on 14 August 1981 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (1978)
  • Weekend News, 22 Dec 1962, p 27
  • West Australian, 29 May 1965, p 22, 24 Sept 1966, p 25
  • V. Hobbs and S. Gare, interview with M. D. Edis (typescript, 1975, State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Deborah Gare, 'Edis, Margaret Dorothy (Dot) (1890–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edis-margaret-dorothy-dot-12453/text22397, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 28 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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