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Ellis, Constance (1872–1942)

by A. S. Ellis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Constance Ellis (1872-1942), medical practitioner, was born on 2 November 1872 at Carlton, Melbourne, sixth child of Louis Ellis, deputy sheriff and later sheriff of Victoria, and his wife Lydia Constance, née Phillips; both parents were born in New South Wales of Jewish stock. 'Connie' herself never married. In 1886 she entered the Presbyterian Ladies' College, where she completed a brilliant scholastic career in 1890. She enrolled for the medical course at the University of Melbourne in 1894, and from 1896 to 1898 attended the Janet Clarke hostel, Trinity College, as a non-resident. She gained honours in every year of the course, and at the final examinations in March 1899 came second in surgery and third in medicine. This entitled her to a residentship at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, and after a year there she spent a further two years residency at the (Royal) Children's Hospital. She took up general and obstetric practice in Wattletree Road, Malvern.

In March 1903 Dr Ellis obtained the degree of M.D. (by examination), the first woman graduate of the University of Melbourne to do so. She had joined the honorary staff of the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1902, where she organized the pathology department and was honorary pathologist from 1908 until 1919. During this period she was appointed demonstrator and lecturer at the university department of pathology, and deputized for Sir Harry Allen during his absence. The Victorian Baby Health Centres Association was one of her main interests; she was a council-member from its inception and a vice-president in 1920-42. As president of the Medical Women's Society, Dr Ellis acted as its delegate on the council of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association, and was the first woman doctor in Australia to become a councillor of the B.M.A. She lectured frequently to women's groups, and in girls' schools, on the care of babies and expectant mothers, and was closely associated with the College of Domestic Economy (later the Emily McPherson College) in its early years.

Dr Ellis maintained a continuing interest in her old school: in 1911 she was president of the Old Collegians' Association and in 1925 she took part in the school's jubilee congress, a two-day discussion on social and welfare matters. She was founder and vice-president in 1912 of the Lyceum Club and its president in 1918-19. In July 1925 she become a member of the first committee of the Melbourne Business and Professional Women's Club. She was exceptionally widely read and was an excellent violinist. Her many community activities left her little time for writing, and she made only two small contributions to medical literature.

Dr Ellis died at South Yarra on 10 September 1942, after a lingering illness (Paget's disease), and was cremated. She left her large collection of books and pictures to Janet Clarke Hall and the University Women's College. Her personality is well described by M. O. Reid: 'she was the soul of kindness, with great human understanding, a keen sense of fun, and an enormous capacity for making friends'.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Swinburne, Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital (np, 1934)
  • M. O. Reid, The Ladies Came to Stay (Melb, 1960)
  • K. Fitzpatrick, PLC Melbourne (Melb, 1975)
  • J. M. Gillison, A History of the Lyceum Club Melbourne (Melb, 1975)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 24 Oct 1942, p 391
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Sept 1942.

Citation details

A. S. Ellis, 'Ellis, Constance (1872–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ellis-constance-6107/text10465, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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