Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Greig, Grata Flos Matilda (1880–1958)

by Ruth Campbell and J. Barton Hack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

This is a shared entry with:

GREIG FAMILY: Jane Stocks (1872-1939) and Janet Lindsay (1874-1950), medical practitioners, Clara Puella (1877-1957), tutor, Grata Flos Matilda (1880-1958), barrister and solicitor, and Stella Fida (1889-1913), law graduate, were the daughters of Robert Lindsay Greig (1845-1904), merchant, and his wife Jane Stocks, née Macfarlane (1848-1902). The family included three sons, James Arthur (1882-1935), merchant, Ernest Howard (1884-1972), mining engineer, and Hector Maximus (1887-1979), merchant.

In 1889 Robert Greig and his family migrated to Australia from Scotland, arriving in Melbourne in the Parramatta on 20 April. With his younger brother James Patrick (1855-1917) who had arrived in 1886, Robert founded the textile firm of Greig Bros. Robert Greig was an ardent advocate of higher education for both sexes, and succeeded in imparting this ambition to his children. As early as 1887, when his daughters were still at school in Dundee, he wrote to James asking about the prospect of Jane and Janet studying medicine in Melbourne, and received an encouraging reply.

Jane Stocks Greig, known as Jean, was born on 12 June 1872 at Cupar, Fife, Scotland. After arriving in Melbourne she and her sister Janet attended Brunswick Ladies College. They both entered the University of Melbourne to study medicine in 1891; Jean graduated M.B. in 1895 and B.S. in 1896, with honours. She carried on a general practice for some years, mainly in Brighton and Fitzroy, and was appointed to the medical staff of the Citizens' Life Assurance Co. Ltd. A founder of the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1896, she was a member of the honorary medical staff until 1910. However, her main interests were in the field of public health. She received the diploma of public health at the University of Melbourne on 16 April 1910, the first woman to do so. On 1 November she was one of the first three medical officers appointed to the Victorian Education Department, and in 1929 became chief medical officer. She retired in 1937. Untiring in her efforts to improve the standards of health of Victorian schoolchildren, she played a key role in the introduction of regular dental inspection and treatment, and of special services for handicapped children. She was widely recognized as an excellent organizer and administrator. In 1925 the Commonwealth government appointed her a member of the royal commission on health; in 1929, with official accreditation, she visited New Zealand, North America and Britain, to report on methods of medical and dental inspection. She lectured on hygiene at the university and the Teachers' Training College in 1916-39.

Jean Greig was one of the founders of the Victorian Medical Women's Society (1896) and represented that body on the council of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association. She was president of the Victorian Women Graduates' Association, secretary of the Victorian branch of the Health Association of Australasia, and active in the Town Planning Commission, the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association, the Victorian Bush Nursing Association, the Midwives' Board and the Council of Public Education. Her reports and articles, published in the Medical Journal of Australia between 1919 and 1937, received favourable overseas notice. She died of cancer in hospital at Richmond, Melbourne, on 16 September 1939.

Janet, known as Jenny, was born on 8 August 1874 at Broughty Ferry, Scotland. She graduated M.B., B.S. with honours in 1895. Her high place in the honours list would normally have entitled her to an appointment to the resident staff of the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, but there was much opposition to the appointment of women. The question was hotly debated, and finally Janet Greig and Freda Gamble were appointed. After the successful completion of her residency Janet commenced private practice in Fitzroy, where she lived for many years. Later she practised as a consulting physician in Collins Street for over thirty years. She was a founder of the Queen Victoria Hospital and when she retired in 1948 had been an active member of the honorary medical staff for fifty-two years. In 1937 the hospital named its new pathology block after her.

Janet Greig is recognized as the first woman anaesthetist in Victoria: she was honorary anaesthetist at the Women's Hospital in Melbourne from 1900 to 1917, honorary assistant anaesthetist at the Melbourne Hospital in 1903 and was admitted as a member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1940. She was a foundation member of the Lyceum Club in 1912. She demanded high standards of herself, and did not spare herself in her work. Forthright and determined, she was uninterested in frivolities or luxuries, but was always generous and kind and devoted to her patients. She died in London on 18 October 1950 while on a visit.

Clara Puella was born on 23 December 1877 at Broughty Ferry. She was educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne, and matriculated in 1897. She studied for the degree of B.Sc. at the university from 1898 to 1901 but did not complete the course. In 1904 she opened a coaching college for university students in The Block, Collins Street, and engaged the services of her women graduate friends as specialist tutors. Later she was joined by her friend Jessie Webb. On 11 October 1910 at Brighton, with Presbyterian forms, she married Clement Alfred Hack (1877-1930), patent attorney, grandson of J. B. Hack. She died at Brighton on 9 June 1957, survived by one of her two sons and a daughter.

Grata Flos Matilda, known as Flos, was born on 7 November 1880 at Broughty Ferry. She attended P.L.C. between 1894 and 1896 and, having decided on a legal career when still at school, enrolled at the university in 1897 for arts and law, the first woman to enter the law faculty. Male law students greeted her advent with some raillery, but voted in her first year that women should be admitted to practice. Completing her pass arts degree in 1900 (and formally graduating in 1904), she graduated LL.B. on 28 March 1903, the first woman in Victoria to do so, with third-class honours, second in her year. In April, through her efforts and those of her friends, the Victorian parliament passed what was dubbed the 'Flos Greig Enabling Bill', to remove 'some anomalies in the law relating to women', thus permitting her (and subsequent women) to be admitted to legal practice. After thorough articles with Frank Cornwall, she was admitted on 1 August 1905, thus becoming the first woman to enter the legal profession in Australia.

Her realism led her, as a pioneer, to practise as a solicitor rather than a barrister. Self-employed in her early professional years, Flos drafted for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union amendments to the bill which passed into law as the Children's Court Act, 1906. She apparently worked later as an employee solicitor, and spent some dozen years in the office of Paul McSwiney at Wangaratta before her retirement in 1942.

In her years at Wangaratta, from which she explored the countryside in a 'Baby' Austin tourer, she actively supported the extension of adult education facilities to the area. In the 1930s, through altruism and dissatisfaction with the existing economic order, she was a serious student and advocate of Douglas Credit. A frequent and intrepid Eastern traveller from an early date, Flos Greig developed an interest in Asian religions and customs, and lectured with lantern slides about her journeys. She lived in retirement at Rosebud for some years before her death at Moorabbin on 31 December 1958. Kindly, involved and articulate, Flos Greig was an important trail-blazer.

Stella Fida, known as Fida, was born on 3 December 1889 at North Carlton, Melbourne. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with a pass LL.B. degree on 8 April 1911. Unhappily, she died of tuberculosis on 4 December 1913, aged 24.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Swinburne, The Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital (Melb, 1951)
  • M. O. Reid, The Ladies Came to Stay (Melb, 1960)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation: A Centenary History of State Education in Victoria, L. J. Blake (ed) (Melb, 1973)
  • R. Campbell, A History of the Melbourne Law School, 1857 to 1973 (Melb, 1977)
  • M. Hutton Neve, This Mad Folly (Syd, 1980)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, Feb 1940, May 1953
  • Law Institute Journal, Dec 1975
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 15 July 1899
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 8, 14 Dec 1899, 16 Apr 1903, 18 May 1905
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 5 Aug 1905
  • Age, 19 Sept 1939, 21 Oct 1950, 3 Jan 1959
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Aug 1937, 19 Sept 1939
  • G. Wilson, Dr Janet Lindsay Greig (paper delivered to Royal Australian College of Surgeons, Melbourne, May 1967)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ruth Campbell and J. Barton Hack, 'Greig, Grata Flos Matilda (1880–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/greig-grata-flos-matilda-7049/text11103, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014