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O'Reilly, Susannah Hennessy (Susie) (1881–1960)

by Ann M. Mitchell and Margaret Steven

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Susannah Hennessy (Susie) O'Reilly (1881-1960), medical practitioner, was born on 25 January 1881 in Sydney, third of eight children of Dr Walter William Joseph O'Reilly from New York and his wife Mary Narcissa, née Taylor, of Ballarat, Victoria. Walter Cresswell O'Reilly was her brother. Susie was educated at Methodist Ladies College, Burwood, and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1903; M.B., Ch.M., 1905).

Her application for a residential post at Sydney Hospital was rejected in a glare of publicity in January 1905. In 1903 the Women's Progressive Association had extracted from the Sydney Hospital board of directors the statement that 'when vacancies occur applications are invited … without any restriction as to sex'. Dr O'Reilly was an honours graduate and fourth in her year. Her father had been an honorary physician at Sydney Hospital and after 1888, a member of the consulting staff. When the board offered the not untrue excuse that there was no suitable accommodation for a female resident medical officer, Sydney Truth was not impressed:

She is the emblem of the age
Is Doctor Sue O'Reilly!
No use for them to fume and rage,
For woman's ways are wily!
The Lady Doctor's come to stay,
No matter what the men may say,
And who should bar the right of way
To Doctor Sue O'Reilly?

Dr O'Reilly spent 1905-07 as resident medical officer at Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Queen Victoria Hospital, Melbourne, and the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, Sydney. Her brother Theophilus Linnell was appointed resident at Sydney Hospital in 1906; Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was breached by Dr Jessie Aspinall the same year; but women were not appointed at Sydney Hospital until 1910. In 1908 Susie joined her father's practice, started at Pymble in 1896. Just before his death in 1919, she was joined by her sister Dr Olive Kelynack O'Reilly (one of the first two female medical students admitted to Sydney Hospital in 1912), who left the practice on her marriage in 1924. Susie O'Reilly retained her rooms in Liverpool Street until about 1938 and when she retired in 1948 her brother Merrick continued the Pymble service.

Susie O'Reilly was a popular family doctor and renowned as an obstetrician. Her patients were diverted by her keen sense of humour and disregard for convention reflected in manner and dress. Her family was staunchly Methodist and although Dr O'Reilly was not a regular churchgoer, her charitable instincts found several professional and educational outlets. She was a co-founder of the New South Wales Association of Registered Medical Women (1921) which established the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children where she was consulting physician in 1926-41. She was active in this hospital's Pymble Auxiliary after 1948, becoming its vice-president in 1954 and a hospital life governor in 1959. She also co-founded and for many years was president of her school's Old Girls' Union and was medical adviser to Presbyterian Ladies College, Pymble, and the Kindergarten Training College, Waverley. She was a knowledgeable bushwalker and botanist and a foundation member of the National Trust of Australia.

Susannah O'Reilly died at her Pymble home on 18 June 1960 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Stokes, The Jubilee Book of the Sydney Hospital Clinical School (Syd, 1960)
  • M. H. Neve, This Mad Folly (Syd, 1980)
  • G. Halstead, The Story of St. Ives (N.S.W.) and Some of its Neighbours (np, 1982)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Sept 1958, 24 Sept 1960
  • Bulletin Post-Graduate Committee in Medicine, University of Sydney, 14, no 2, May 1958
  • Truth (Sydney), 8 Jan 1905
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1960.

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell and Margaret Steven, 'O'Reilly, Susannah Hennessy (Susie) (1881–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oreilly-susannah-hennessy-susie-7919/text13777, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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