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Meredith, Winifred Barbara (1895–1979)

by Kerreen M. Reiger

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Winifred Barbara Meredith (1895-1979), medical practitioner, was born on 17 September 1895 at Merino, Victoria, fourth child of Ewen Cameron, grazier, and his wife Emma Harriet, née Nunn, both Victorian-born. Her Scottish grandfather had settled in the area in 1838; her father represented Portland (1900-04) and Glenelg (1904-06) in the Legislative Assembly. Barbara was educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College, Kew, and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1921; B.A., 1947). After a year at the Melbourne Hospital, she moved in 1923 to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital for Women and Children as medical superintendent. On 6 October 1931 at St George's Church, Malvern, she married Charles William Meredith, a widowed Anglican priest. She continued to work with out-patients at the hospital's department of obstetrics and gynaecology until the birth of her daughter in 1937. Like many other married women doctors, she undertook some medical work at schools. She also raised two stepsons, and supported her husband's pastoral duties in parishes at Murrumbeena and Malvern.

Widowed in 1944, Dr Meredith resumed her professional career in the following year as an ante-natal medical officer in the maternal and child hygiene section of the Department of Health. Concern about maternal deaths, still-births and neo-natal mortality prompted the establishment of municipal ante-natal clinics. On the death of Dr Vera Scantlebury Brown in July 1946, Meredith took over as acting-director (director from 1947) of maternal, infant and pre-school welfare. Through a period of rapid development, she contended with the instability of postwar conditions and the impacts of the baby boom and immigration. In 1950 she visited North America, Britain and Europe on a World Health Organization fellowship; she returned further convinced of the value of preventive health work, and of the importance of monitoring and supporting the early stages of child development. That year she initiated a special migrant infant welfare service. She served (from 1955) on a new Child Welfare Advisory Council established to assist the minister of education (Sir) Arthur Rylah. In 1959 she was an Australian representative to a W.H.O. conference on maternity care, held in the Philippines.

During her term of office the number of infant welfare centres in Victoria doubled (from 296 to 600), pre-schools increased from 185 to 458 and municipal prenatal clinics grew tenfold to 30. Meredith's annual reports reflected recurrent problems of insufficient trained staff and a shortage of building materials in the early 1950s. They also revealed a long-standing attempt to manage the complex relationship between the department and voluntary organizations. Her determination to maintain departmental control over such issues as training of kindergarten teachers, infant feeding and supervision of maternal weight in pregnancy did not always ensure popularity with peers and those outside the department.

Meredith was appointed O.B.E. in 1960, the year of her retirement. In August she travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, to attend a meeting of the International Council of Women as a delegate of the National Council of Women. She belonged to the Lyceum and Soroptimist clubs. Her later years were marred by ill health, but she enjoyed gardening and remained closely involved with the Anglican Church. Survived by her daughter, she died on 28 July 1979 at Camberwell and was cremated.

Barbara's eldest sister Maud Martha Cameron (1886-1973) was also educated at P.L.C. and the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1908; M.A., Dip.Ed., 1911). She was headmistress (1911-54) of Firbank Church of England Girls' Grammar School, Brighton, and president (1936-37) of the Victorian Association of Headmistresses. In 1955 she was appointed M.B.E.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, The Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria 1908-1980 (Melb, 1982)
  • Victorian Department of Health, Health Bulletin, no 82, 1943, p 2204
  • Annual Report of the Director of the Maternal and Child Health Branch, 1959-60, and correspondence files (Victorian Department of Health records, Melbourne)
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Mar 1945, 26 Feb 1947, 7 Apr 1958, 6 Aug 1960, 31 July 1979
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 July 1950
  • private information.

Citation details

Kerreen M. Reiger, 'Meredith, Winifred Barbara (1895–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meredith-winifred-barbara-11112/text19785, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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