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Reid, Isabelle Bruce (Belle) (1883–1945)

by Hugh J. Wirth

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Isabelle Bruce (Belle) Reid (1883-1945), veterinary surgeon, was born on 21 December 1883 in Melbourne, youngest of ten children of Robert Joseph Reid, a merchant from Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Mary Jane, née Clancy. The family owned a large property at Balwyn, bounded to the north by Whitehorse Road and to the south by Mont Albert Road. Growing up in a viticultural, market-gardening and dairying district, Belle developed a passionate interest in animals, particularly horses. She was educated at Genazzano convent school, Kew, where she did well academically, became an accomplished needlewoman and showed potential as a soprano. She wanted to continue to study singing, but her parents considered a career on the stage unsuitable for a young woman of social standing. They did, however, support her decision to enter the Melbourne Veterinary College, Fitzroy, in 1902.

Completing the course in 1906, Reid was one of five final-year students who were examined, and the only one to pass. When she was registered by the Veterinary Board of Victoria on 21 November she was said to be the first formally recognized female veterinary surgeon in the world. She immediately set up practice in a house in Whitehorse Road that had formerly accommodated her family's chauffeur. Driving to her calls by pony and trap, she became a familiar sight around Balwyn. In 1923 she retired and left the practice in the hands of P. T. Kelynack, husband of her favourite niece Sylvia. The original stables and kennels, and some of her instruments, can be seen at the Balwyn Veterinary Surgery.

In 1911 Reid and her sister Mary ('May') had bought one thousand acres (405 ha) of farmland at Bundoora and named it Blossom Park. Belle moved to the farm in 1925. She engaged Edna Walling to landscape the garden of her home, had stables built to accommodate both her own horses and others on agistment, and supervised the construction of a large dairy. Belle later bought May out. A keen breeder of animals, she imported an Irish cob stallion, Hafron Sensation, which provided the main bloodline of her stud. She also bred stud Jersey cattle: their names all began with Jubilee. As a dog-breeder, she initially kept Pomeranians, but soon turned to Irish wolfhounds. A member of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, she regularly exhibited her cattle, dogs, pigs and harness horses with excellent results. She rode with the Findon Harriers Hunt, took part in showjumping and played polo, often at Blossom Park.

Late in life Miss Reid still managed the farm, with the help of Sylvia Kelynack. She died of coronary thrombosis on 13 December 1945 at Canterbury and was buried in Box Hill cemetery; her estate was sworn for probate at £101,603. A formidable woman, she only gained limited status in what was then a conservative, male-dominated profession, partly because she retired from practice early. In 1996 her name was included in the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame, Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Select Bibliography

  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 Sept 1924
  • Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and Veterinary Board of Victoria, records (held by Veterinary Practitioners Board of Victoria)
  • Melbourne Veterinary College, records (held by Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Hugh J. Wirth, 'Reid, Isabelle Bruce (Belle) (1883–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reid-isabelle-bruce-belle-11503/text20519, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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