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Ross, Isabella Henrietta Younger (Isie) (1887–1956)

by Kerreen M. Reiger

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

Isabella Henrietta Younger (Isie) Ross (1887-1956), medical practitioner, was born on 15 July 1887 at Warrnambool, Victoria, eldest daughter of John Younger, storekeeper, and his wife Henrietta, née Dawson. John Younger who had come to Warrnambool from Canada, via Yackandandah, was mayor in 1912 and a director of Warrnambool Woollen Mill.

Isie, as she was known, was educated at Hohenlohe College, Warrnambool, where she was dux before commencing a medical course at the University of Melbourne. She finished her degree at the University of Glasgow, Scotland (M.B., Ch.B., 1914), and then worked in the slum areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh before becoming house physician at the Queen's Hospital for Children in London. There she was inspired by the work of Dr Eric Pritchard, a world leader of the burgeoning medical interest in child and maternal health. In London she also met and on 8 April 1916 married the Melbourne merchant John Ross. On their voyage home, they travelled through the United States of America where Isabella took the opportunity to study child welfare, particularly that under the leadership of Dr Herman N. Bundesen in Chicago.

Arriving back in Melbourne in 1917 Isabella Younger Ross was full of enthusiasm for the ideas of these child health experts. They stressed the importance of teaching women hygiene, nutrition and other principles of mothercraft in order to lower child mortality rates. In Sydney, but not in Melbourne, voluntary organizations, with some degree of state support, had already established specialized baby clinics since 1914. Her knowledge and experience thus provided the catalyst for establishing the first Victorian clinic, at Richmond, in June 1917. With her supporters Mrs J. J. Hemphill and Mrs W. Ramsay, Isabella contributed financially to the centre, guaranteeing the salary of the clinic sister Muriel Peck for the first few months. As other centres opened in nearby suburbs, these women continued their significant work, travelling by tram to the centres, often armed with the scales for weighing the babies. Dr Younger Ross became a central figure in the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association (1918). During the 1920s a comprehensive network of centres was established with State and local support.

Isabella Younger Ross's career included some time in private practice and various periods at the Children's, Royal Women's and Queen Victoria hospitals. The mother of one son, she ensured that the demands of her working life were compatible with the traditional role of wife and mother. The field of infant and maternal welfare provided socially legitimate professional activity. She is remembered by colleagues as warm, 'motherly', practical and kind.

A member of the Lyceum Club (president, 1938-40), she convened its garden circle for many years and also became vice-president of the Compost Society. Her enjoyment of gardening, centred on her family's country cottage in the Dandenong ranges near Melbourne, was part of her broader commitment to the 'natural', which also underlay her promotion of breastfeeding. Through the forty years of her involvement with infant and maternal health, Isabella Younger Ross stressed traditional familial values, her own domestic arrangements and personal life reflecting the same principles as she put forward in her books Feeding the Child—All Ages (1929) and The Happy Mother and Child (1940). She was shattered by the death of her son on active service in New Guinea in World War II, and in 1955 nursed her husband for some months before his death.

Isabella Younger Ross died of cancer on 2 April 1956, at her South Yarra home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Tributes emphasized her personal qualities and her role in infant welfare, public recognition of which had gained her appointment as O.B.E. in 1938. A plaque commemorating her work is at the Queen Elizabeth Maternal and Child Welfare Centre, Carlton.

Select Bibliography

  • Victorian Baby Health Centres Association, The Story of the Baby Health Centre Movement in Victoria (Melb, nd)
  • J. M. Gillison, A History of the Lyceum Club (Melb, 1975)
  • K. Reiger, The Disenchantment of the Home (Melb, 1985)
  • Victorian Baby Health Centres Associatioin, Baby Health, June 1956
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 13 Aug 1946, 4 Apr 1956
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2, 3 Apr 1956
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Apr 1956.

Citation details

Kerreen M. Reiger, 'Ross, Isabella Henrietta Younger (Isie) (1887–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ross-isabella-henrietta-younger-isie-8272/text14493, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 August 2014.

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

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