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Gullett, Lucy Edith (1876–1949)

by Ann M. Mitchell

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

Lucy Edith Gullett (1876-1949), medical practitioner and philanthropist, was born on 28 September 1876 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, third daughter of Henry Gullett, journalist, and his wife Lucy, née Willie. She was educated at Sydney Girls' High School and the University of Sydney (M.B., 1900; Ch.M., 1901). In 1901-02 she was first resident medical officer at the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, and in 1902-03 was resident surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane. In 1906 her father bought her a general practice at Bathurst, New South Wales, but in 1911 she returned home to Wahroonga to provide company for her unmarried sister Minnie. In 1922-33 the Gullett sisters lived in a waterfront house built for them at Kirribilli. Their last home was in Wyagdon Street, North Sydney.

Minnie Gullett was a Shakespeare 'buff', an enthusiastic member of the Lunacy Reform League of Australia, and a generous supporter of stray animals, drunks and ex-patients from lunatic asylums to whom she devoted most of her inheritance. Dr Gullett publicly shared Minnie's concern for mental health reform. Together they also persuaded their reluctant sisters to commission from (Sir) Bertram Mackennal the Shakespeare memorial that their father had proposed just before he died in 1914. Costing some £10,000, the six-figure group was installed in February 1926 on a prominent site near the Mitchell Library.

The expectation of financial independence had sapped Lucy Gullett's medical ambition. Her private practice in North Sydney from 1912 was modest and reputedly adjourned on major race days. She spent many afternoons playing bridge at the Queen's Club of which she was an early member (1912). During 1915-16 she went at her own expense to Europe and served in a French Red Cross military hospital at Lyons. In 1919 during the influenza epidemic she was medical officer at the City Road emergency hospital, Sydney—a harrowing experience that gave rise to her only significant scientific paper. She was honorary outpatients physician to the Renwick Hospital for Infants (Benevolent Society of New South Wales) in 1918-32, and attached to a government baby health centre at about the same time. She was on the council of the Sydney District Nursing Association in 1934-49.

Inspired by the success of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, Melbourne, run by women for women, Lucy Gullett founded the New South Wales Association of Registered Medical Women in 1921 and was honorary secretary, with Dr Harriet Biffen as president. Plans for a hospital dominated association business. A house in Surry Hills was opened as an outpatient dispensary on 3 January 1922 and known as the New Hospital for Women and Children. Drs Biffen and Gullett shouldered most of the early financial responsibility. The hospital moved to Redfern and was renamed the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children in 1925. Dr Gullett resigned as secretary in 1926 but remained on the hospital committee and was vice-president in 1932-49. She was also life governor, trustee, honorary physician until 1935 (consultant thereafter), and first chairman of the medical board until 1942. Hers was the decisive voice when the board of directors hesitated over its expansion programme in 1940: 'Well, I think we should go on with the building of the new hospital. If the British Empire falls, it won't matter on what we have spent our money; but if it doesn't, we will have our hospital'. In December 1941 she announced a convalescent home as her next target: the Lucy Gullett Convalescent Home at Bexley was opened on 9 November 1946.

In 1932 Lucy Gullett stood as an Independent Women's candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of North Sydney. She lost her deposit. At Jessie Street's instigation she was elected to the executive committee of the United Associations of Women in 1935 and was vice-president in 1936-38 and 1943.

The family holds a charming portrait of the young Lucy (1887) by Julian Rossi Ashton. In appearance she was dark, later grey-haired, short and thickset like her father. She 'knew everyone' and was a gifted hospital canvasser with ready access to the press. Unfailingly kind-hearted she had instant rapport with the working-class women who were her patients. On 29 December 1943 Minnie Gullett died. Thereafter Lucy, who suffered from nephritis, relied on her friend, the cellist Julia (June) Holland, for comfort and support. After a stroke in mid-1949, Dr Gullett died in the Rachel Forster Hospital on 12 November 1949. She was buried with Anglican rites in the family grave in Gore Hill cemetery. Her estate, valued for probate at £15,918, was left mostly to her family.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 30 Aug 1919, 11 Feb 1950, 13 Sept 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Aug 1912, 30 Jan, 4 Feb 1926, 14, 18 Nov 1949
  • Minutes, New South Wales Association of Registered Medical Women, and Rachel Forster Hospital, and United Assn of Women (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Gullett, Lucy Edith (1876–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gullett-lucy-edith-6505/text11161, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 27 August 2016.

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

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