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Wallace, Victor Hugo (1893–1977)

by Grant McBurnie

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

Victor Hugo Wallace (1893-1977), medical practitioner, eugenicist and sexologist, was born on 17 November 1893 at Boorhaman, Victoria, third of eight children of Victorian-born parents John Murray Wallace, schoolteacher and later farmer, and his wife Harriet Udy, née Grigg. Victor boarded at Wesley College and won a scholarship to the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1918; M.D., 1920). In 1918-19 he was a resident at the Melbourne Hospital and in 1919-20 at the Queen's Memorial Infectious Diseases Hospital. Having sailed to Britain in 1921, he held a number of hospital appointments there, worked as a locum tenens and obtained a fellowship (1924) of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. He travelled extensively in Britain and Europe, and in 1923 voyaged to Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Malaya then back to Britain as a ship's surgeon. Returning to Australia in 1926, he served as government medical officer in Port Moresby for eight months in 1926-27 before leasing a practice at Charlton, Victoria.

In 1928 Wallace settled at Hughesdale, Melbourne, and established a general practice which he was to maintain until his death. From 1932 until the late 1960s he also kept consulting rooms as a gynaecologist in Collins Street, Melbourne. On 22 March 1933 at Queen's College, University of Melbourne, he married with Methodist forms Ethelwyn Iris Woolford, a 21-year-old clerk. They were to have five children between 1934 and 1940.

Wallace's experiences of travel in Asia and Europe, together with the suffering he witnessed in Australia during the Depression, fuelled his desire to alleviate social problems, especially the hardships and crowded living conditions of the poor. He developed interests in birth control and the social dimensions of sexual behaviour. In October 1934 he, Dr George Simpson and Dr (Dame) Mary Herring established a birth-control centre, the Women's Welfare Clinic, under the auspices of the Melbourne District Nursing Society. The clinic was intended to assist overburdened working-class mothers. It opened at Collingwood with no publicity and thus avoided controversy.

Associating with intellectual and professional people who shared his interests in selective breeding and population policies, Wallace was a founding member (1936) of the Eugenics Society of Victoria and was to serve as the association's honorary secretary until its activities ceased in 1961. He hoped that the society would attract financial benefactors willing to help in the founding of additional birth-control clinics. In 1939 the organization publicly announced its intention to establish a new centre. The proposal generated heated criticism, including condemnation in parliament and denunciation by church leaders, and was shelved.

In 1940 Wallace and a small group of sympathizers formed the Social Hygiene Society, with the aim of starting a clinic dispensing 'scientific instruction on matters pertaining to marital relations'. With funding from Janie Butler, a philanthropist and eugenicist, the society quietly opened a clinic in Collins Street in February 1941. The facility provided patients with rubber pessaries and spermicidal jelly. As World War II continued, supplies of rubber dwindled. The clinic was obliged to close in September 1942 because pessaries had become unobtainable.

From the late 1930s to the mid-1950s, Wallace lectured on 'Sex, Marriage and Family' for the Workers' Educational Association of Victoria and its successor the Council of Adult Education, Victoria. A founding member (1948) of the Melbourne Marriage Guidance Council (Marriage Guidance Council of Victoria), he served on the executive and acted as chief lecturer. He informed his audiences that instruction in 'the technique of sexual intercourse' and in remedies for sexual dysfunction would be invaluable to married couples and to society at large. As well as promoting the health and well-being of the partners, marital satisfaction would help to improve the quality and quantity of the next generation.

In his clinical work, Wallace specialized in counselling people with sexual problems. Patients were attracted by word of mouth, and by his reputation as a lecturer and writer in the field. He gave advice on such matters as hormone therapy, copulatory techniques, contraceptive methods, and the use of mechanical and pneumatic devices. In 1947-55 he was the Australian editor of the journal Marriage Hygiene (later the International Journal of Sexology).

Wallace's book, Women and Children First (1946), outlined a population policy for Australia. A survey of 530 of his patients had revealed eighteen major reasons why people were practising family planning. Financial, psychological, marital and health-related factors all played a part. To increase the birth rate, Wallace recommended marriage loans, larger maternity allowances and child endowment payments, birth-control clinics (in the interests of maternal health), crèches, free education, liberalized divorce laws, and marriage guidance counselling.

Since the death in action of his younger brother John in World War I, Wallace had been interested in the causes of war and the means of its prevention. He published a collection of essays by authors from various disciplines—including economics, education, medicine, theology and physics—as Paths to Peace (1957). Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India contributed a foreword to the book, and Wallace a chapter entitled 'A World Population Policy as a Factor in Maintaining Peace'. In his later years he edited a guide to preventive medicine, Good Health (1968). He also published a family history, The Wallace Story (1973). Immediately before his death, he was working on a book about drug addiction. He died on 9 April 1977 at Hughesdale and was buried in Springvale cemetery. His wife, their two sons and two of their three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 11 Feb 1978, p 155
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Apr, 8-10 May 1939
  • G. McBurnie, Constructing Sexuality in Victoria 1930-1950: Sex Reformers Associated with the Victorian Eugenics Society (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1989)
  • Wallace papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Grant McBurnie, 'Wallace, Victor Hugo (1893–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wallace-victor-hugo-11943/text21405, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 July 2016.

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

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