Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stang, Eleanor Margrethe (1894–1978)

by M. Tamblyn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Eleanor Margrethe Stang (1894-1978), medical practitioner, was born on 1 June 1894 at South Yarra, Melbourne, eldest child of Norwegian-born Thomas Newbould Stang, medical practioner and civil servant, and his wife Eleanor Bath, née Eastwood. Educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College from 1905, Rita graduated in medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1918 and completed her Diploma of Public Health (1927). She practised at Port Fairy and was resident medical officer at Melbourne public hospitals. On 10 January 1919 at Hawthorn she married Norman Arthur Albiston, medical practitioner; they had no children and were divorced in 1927.

Replacing Roberta Jull, in 1925 Rita was appointed medical officer of schools in the Western Australian Public Health Department; after a year's experience in London, in 1929 she became supervisor of infant health in Western Australia, holding both positions until she retired in 1955. Dr Stang had, in 1931-46, only one doctor and two nurses to help her; cheerful, energetic and persistent, she saw her staff increase to fourteen by 1951 which made inspection of some kindergartens and Aboriginal missions possible. Her efforts resulted in improved hygiene and the reduction of pediculosis in government schools from a State average of 14.8 per cent in 1925 to 0.69 per cent in 1951. Her nurses visited homes to discuss treatment, especially if parents were negligent. To improve children's diets, the Oslo Lunch was introduced.

Her work was crucial. Infant health centres grew from ten to forty-six, with three hundred sub-centres; by 1955 a special carriage, a mothercraft 'oasis' attached to the 'tea and sugar' train, travelled to remote settlements on the Nullarbor Plain. Infant health sisters received explicit instructions and attended refresher courses, while in 1932 a correspondence sister was appointed to help families in isolated areas. The Eleanor M. Stang Infant Health Centre in Perth became a mecca for country mothers. Dr Stang also gave weekly radio talks and wrote press articles. Her achievements significantly decreased infant mortality.

A member of the National Fitness Council, an examiner for the University of Western Australia and a lecturer in hygiene at the Teachers' Training College, Claremont, Dr Stang broached sex education by inviting students home for a lecture and discussion. By holding a senior position in the predominantly male medical circle and by winning respect for her administrative skill, hard work and professional knowledge, she was a path-maker in the entry of women to the professions. Concerned with her own status and authority, she fought to raise her salary to that of her male colleagues. In 1948 she was co-founder and first president of the local branch of the Medical Women's Society.

Dr Stang was a strongly built woman who believed in strict control over her sisters and students. Many thought her formidable. She clashed with at least one commissioner of public health whose 1946 report criticized the School Medical Service. Yet, her associates found her fair-minded and generous. After retiring, Rita returned to Victoria where she worked as locum tenens and as ship's doctor, and enjoyed her hobbies of travel and pottery. She died on 18 July 1978 in Melbourne and was cremated. Her estate was sworn for probate at $219,193.

Select Bibliography

  • N. A. Stewart, As I Remember Them (Perth, 1987)
  • Commissioner for Public Health, Annual Report, 1931-55 (bound copies held in Health Department of Western Australia, Perth)
  • West Australian, 16 Apr, 22 Dec 1932, 19 Feb 1955
  • Daily News (Perth), 23 Nov 1944
  • Public Health Department of Western Australia, Infant Health Council, minute book, 1932-34, and Infant Health Association, minute book, 1924-32, and Infant Health Correspondence Scheme, minute book, 1934-53 (Health Dept of Western Australia, Perth).

Citation details

M. Tamblyn, 'Stang, Eleanor Margrethe (1894–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stang-eleanor-margrethe-8621/text15061, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Albiston, Eleanor Margrethe
  • Stang, Rita
Birth

1 June 1894
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

18 July 1978
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation