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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mackay, Kate (1897–1983)

by John Lack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Kate Mackay (1897-1983), medical practitioner, was born on 29 April 1897 at Bendigo, Victoria, third of seven children of Scottish-born James Hannah Mackay, Presbyterian minister, and his Victorian-born wife Mary, née Fawcett. Kate was educated at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, East Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1922; MD, 1924). She was one of four to graduate in medicine with first-class honours, in a class that included Lucy Bryce, Jean MacNamara, Roy Cameron, George Simpson, Rupert Willis, Macfarlane Burnet, Kate Campbell, Mildred Mocatta and Jean Littlejohn. Mackay was resident medical officer at (Royal) Melbourne (1922), (Royal) Women’s (1923) and the Children’s (1924) hospitals.

Entering the Victorian Public Service in 1925 because of financial considerations, Mackay became the first female medical inspector of factories and shops in the Department of Labour. Her investigations into the effects of industrial conditions on women’s health and well-being were undertaken during a period of mounting trade-unionist fear of female workers’ penetration of industries that formerly had been male preserves. In 1927 she accompanied an Australian industrial delegation to the United States of America, as co-observer with May Matthews of women’s working conditions. On her return, with Muriel Heagney and Ethel Osborne she was appointed to a committee of inquiry into female workers’ health at the Sunshine Harvester Works, Melbourne. The committee recommended that a wider inquiry be conducted into women’s work in Victoria, which Mackay then undertook in collaboration with Dr Marion Ireland of the Commonwealth Department of Health. Conveying her findings and views through lectures and radio talks, Mackay generally supported the extension of women’s industrial employment, subject to strict regulation of working conditions and the mandatory medical examination of all female juvenile workers.

In 1933 Mackay resigned from the public service and in 1934 entered private practice in Collins Street as a specialist physician. About this time she began a long association with the Myer Emporium Ltd as consultant physician at the staff medical clinic. Cardiology and endocrinology became her chief interests. She was a physician (1927-57) to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, where she was the founder of, and physician (1946-53) to, the diabetic clinic, continuing as the first consultant physician after her retirement in 1957. In 1940-45 she served as medical officer-in-charge of the diabetic clinic at RMH and from 1946 as assistant-physician to the clinic. She was also physician (1943-45) to the military annex at Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital and an honorary part-time major (1942-52) in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps. In 1938 she had become a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. That year she studied at Boston, USA, with the cardiologist Dr Paul Dudley White, the first of many postgraduate visits to North America, undertaken at a time when Britain was an Australian physician’s usual destination. She was appointed OBE in 1977.

A cultivated woman with an interest in contemporary art, Mackay enjoyed friendships that extended beyond medicine to include artists, businessmen and members of the Lyceum Club, which she had joined in 1925. She was admired for her skill and integrity, and also for her warmth and sense of humour. Unmarried, she died on 1 September 1983 at East Melbourne and was cremated after a service at Toorak Uniting Church.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2, 1976-1990 (1994)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 14 Apr 1984, p 498
  • private information.

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Citation details

John Lack, 'Mackay, Kate (1897–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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