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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Halley, Ida Gertrude Margaret (1867–1939)

by Elizabeth Kwan

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

Ida Gertrude Margaret Halley (1867-1939), by unknown photographer

Ida Gertrude Margaret Halley (1867-1939), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 40799

Ida Gertrude Margaret Halley (1867-1939), medical officer and feminist, was born on 1 August 1867 at Ballarat West, Victoria, daughter of Rev. Jacob John Halley and his wife Margaret, née Fletcher. Educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, she was among the first women medical students at the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1896). After graduation she practised with Dr Kent Hughes of Melbourne and was active as a founder and treasurer of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women. She became honorary surgeon there and a specialist in eye and ear work, a field she had researched in London and Shanghai, China.

In 1906 Halley was appointed to assist the chief health officer in Tasmania as medical inspector of schools. With Dr Hogg of Launceston she devised an eye test for children which was adopted throughout Australia and in other parts of the British Empire. In 1910 she moved to Sydney to a similar appointment, which also involved lecturing Teachers' College students on hygiene and teaching older schoolgirls the care of infants. Early in 1913 Halley was chosen to establish the long-awaited medical branch of the Education Department in South Australia. Accompanied initially by one school nurse, she began the examination of 50,000 children at the rate of one hundred per day. She made extensive use of the parents' meeting since, like her closest friend and colleague Lydia Longmore, inspector of infant schools, she believed that educating mothers and fathers was one of the best means of improving children's health. They pioneered the use of intelligence tests in South Australian schools. From the beginning Halley argued for separate and skilled teaching for mentally retarded children. She also promoted model playgrounds for children. Appointed vice-chairman of the playgrounds section of the interstate Town Planning Exhibition in Adelaide, she was later an Education Department representative on the playground committee of the Town Planning Association. Within the department Dr Halley continually pressed for better school medical facilities and more staff. By 1925 she headed a staff of sixteen, including three dentists, five medical assistants, three nurses and a psychologist, Dr Constance Davey. The press commented that she 'had been fighting against heavy odds with skill, enthusiasm and courage' to get her 'forward' policies accepted.

Her impressive professional achievement until her retirement in 1931 was matched by her activities in the wider society. Within a few months of her arrival in Adelaide, she became a leading member of the Women's Non-Party Political Association (later League of Women Voters), which sought to mobilize women politically on a variety of social issues. As chairwoman of the League of Loyal Women (in 1916-22) she sought to unite South Australian women of all classes in war work. In 1920 Gertrude became a founding member of the South Australian branch of the National Council of Women, was a committee-member for the first ten years and was convener of its standing committee on public health from 1927 to 1929.

These commitments reflected Dr Halley's endorsement of contemporary feminists' contention that women could contribute much to the wider society; they also related to her religious beliefs. Raised in a Congregational manse, she had been encouraged to develop a concern for reform. She was an active member of the Clayton Church and the Congregational Church Women's Society of South Australia.

After some years' ill health, Gertrude Halley died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease at her home at Maylands on 1 October 1939; she was cremated. A portrait by her friend Marie Tuck is held by the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • C. M. Davey, Children and Their Law-Makers (Adel, 1956)
  • Annual Reports of the Medical Inspector in the Annual Reports of the Minister Controlling Education, Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1914-31
  • Royal Commission on Education, Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1913 (75)
  • Lone Hand, 1 Feb 1915
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 Oct 1939
  • records of the National Council of Women in South Australia, and the League of Women Voters, and the League of Loyal Women (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Elizabeth Kwan, 'Halley, Ida Gertrude Margaret (1867–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 27 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 9

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