Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Mead, Gertrude Ella (1867–1919)

by Prue Joske

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Gertrude Ella Mead (1867-1919), medical practitioner, was born on 31 December 1867 in Adelaide, daughter of Silas Mead, Baptist minister, and his first wife Ann, née Staple. She trained as a nurse at the Adelaide Children's Hospital in 1890-91 and then studied medicine at the University of Adelaide; she graduated (M.B., B.S., 1897) from Melbourne. On her way to Britain in 1898 for postgraduate work Mead stayed briefly at Perth where her colleague Dr Roberta Stewart thought her 'a nice girl, a sufferer from mitral disease who is very philosophical about it'. Gertrude Mead spent two years abroad, as resident physician at an English children's hospital, at a Dublin women's hospital and as a house surgeon at Leith, Scotland.

In 1901 she returned to Perth to join her father, now a co-pastor there. Unmarried, she was the third woman doctor to register in Western Australia and practised from her home at Harvest Terrace, Perth. Her paramount interest was in women's and children's welfare. She was the delegate of the Western Australian branch of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association to the Women's Maternity Hospital Committee formed in 1909, and its obstetric representative when the institution opened as the King Edward Memorial Hospital in 1916. She was also A.T.N.A. nominee on the Western Australian Council for Venereal Disease; her forthright report of 1918 stated that nurses were inadequately informed and needed education on that subject. Dr Mead was honorary physician to the Perth Children's Hospital, which had opened in 1909, and honorary medical officer for the House of Mercy for unmarried mothers in 1904-07. She was an active member of the Karrakatta Women's Club (vice-president, 1912-14), and successively chairwoman of the legal, educational, scientific and current affairs programmes, giving talks on China, Florence Nightingale, women's work and, during World War I, on Red Cross work. Dr Mead was a founder of the Children's Protection Society of Western Australia, where she proposed a day-care centre.

She was appointed to the inaugural Senate of the University of Western Australia in 1912 as a medical representative; a fellow senator recalled her as 'a small thin woman with a mild voice and manner but a keen brain'. She remained on the senate and as a member of its education committee until her death. During the war Dr Mead, an honorary life member of the St John Ambulance Brigade and a Perth divisional surgeon in 1915-19, lectured to Red Cross nurses and was an honorary medical officer at the Fremantle Base Hospital in 1918. Mrs Muriel Chase, who founded the Silver Chain Association, credited Dr Mead with the suggestion to use surplus donations for the salary of a district nurse in Perth; Mead joined the committee of the Silver Chain Nursing League in 1912. She proposed a scheme to build cottage homes for old people and promoted the idea through the Karrakatta Club. The first cottage, rented in Wright Street, North Perth, in 1916, was designed and furnished by Dr Mead and Mrs Chase.

Gertrude, although unwell, left Perth in 1919 to visit her medical missionary brother Dr Cecil Mead, on leave in Adelaide from India. She began to investigate the running of old people's homes in Adelaide, but died of cerebral embolism on 6 November. She was buried in West Terrace cemetery. It was said of her that 'She did not know her own energy and worked far too hard'. A deeply religious but practical woman, her philosophy had been expressed in a paper on 'Medical missions' (W.A. Baptist, 15 April 1907) in which she emphasized the need for doctors to embrace spiritual work as well as regular medical care—to win souls while healing bodies. She concluded with a plea for the women of India and the need for women doctors there. The Silver Chain Cottage Homes were opened in 1920; the only surviving one was named in 1981 the 'Dr Gertrude Mead Cottage Home'. A plaque at Silver Chain headquarters praised her as 'the beloved friend, inspirer and helper of the Silver Chain Nursing League … the solace and strengthening of many to whom she was both physician and friend'.

Select Bibliography

  • C. W. M. Cameron, Karrakatta Club Incorporated 1894-1953 (Perth, 1954)
  • N. Stewart, Little but Great (Perth, 1965)
  • V. Hobbs, But Westward Look (Perth, 1980)
  • West Australian, 15 Dec 1916, 10 Nov 1919
  • R. Jull diaries, 10 Jan 1898, 6, 7 Nov 1919 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Prue Joske, 'Mead, Gertrude Ella (1867–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mead-gertrude-ella-7544/text13161, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019