Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joan Stevenson (Judy) Abbott (1899–1975)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published:

Joan Stevenson (Judy) Abbott (1899-1975), nursing sister and army matron, was born on 11 December 1899 at Normanby Hill, Brisbane, fourth surviving daughter of John William Abbott, a native-born engine driver, and his Scottish wife Isabella, née Stevenson. Entering Brisbane General Hospital as a probationer in 1920, Joan won the 1923 gold medal for theoretical and practical work, gained her general certificate in 1924 and obtained her midwifery certificate at Lady Bowen Hospital, Wickham Terrace. She completed the State child-welfare course, worked in baby clinics in 1926-28 and later at a private hospital, and was engaged as tutor sister in 1929 by the Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board. A strict disciplinarian, she expected much from her trainees and endeavoured to improve nursing standards. Abbott worked briefly in Canberra Community Hospital in 1937 before travelling to England.

Back in Brisbane, on 7 August 1940 she joined the (Royal) Australian Army Nursing Service and was appointed matron, 2nd/6th Australian General Hospital. Embarking for the Middle East in December, she took her fifty-five nurses and masseuses to Greece on 31 March 1941. With the German advance, the women sheltered at Kifisiá, Athens, until ordered to be evacuated to Alexandria, Egypt, on 20 April. While they were boarding ship, there was an air raid; only Abbott and twenty-four nurses managed to leave. The remainder rejoined them at Gaza Ridge, Palestine, in May. Temporarily located at Jerusalem (October 1941-March 1942), the 2nd/6th A.G.H. returned to Gaza Ridge. Matron Abbott was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st Class, for her leadership when the hospital was expanded from 600 to 1500 beds between May and August 1942. She and her staff worked long hours: on one day in November they handled 615 admissions and 235 discharges. Repatriated in February 1943, Abbott was promoted temporary lieutenant colonel on 12 April and posted to the Queensland Lines of Communication Area. In January 1944 she became principal matron; she ceased full-time duty on 21 June 1946 in the substantive rank of lieutenant colonel.

A 1946 Florence Nightingale International Foundation scholarship winner, Abbott studied for eighteen months at the Royal College of Nursing, London. On 1 July 1948 she was appointed principal matron, Citizen Military Forces, headquarters Northern Command. She returned to the tutorial staff of Brisbane Hospital that year. During the Korean War she briefly served in the 1st Camp Hospital, Brisbane. Elected president of the Queensland branch of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association in 1954, Abbott was a member (1955-58) of the State's Nurses and Masseurs Registration Board. She resigned as A.T.N.A. president in 1956, disappointed that she could not improve nurses' training and working conditions. Next year she was awarded a Florence Nightingale medal and in 1962 was appointed honorary colonel of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps.

'Judy' Abbott was a Methodist, 5 ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall, with hazel eyes and brown hair. Her rather gruff manner concealed her inner warmth and her sense of fun; many were inspired by her energy and enthusiasm. She served as a staff nurse with the Commonwealth Savings Bank for five years and then worked in a doctors' surgery until 1970. Early in 1975 she fractured her spine and suffered quadriplegia; she died on 27 November that year in the Bethesda Hospital, Corinda; her body was given to the school of anatomy, University of Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canb, 1953)
  • A. S. Walker, Medical Services of the R.A.N. and R.A.A.F. (Canb, 1961)
  • T. Wilkinson, History of 2/6th Australian General Hospital 1940-1946 (Syd, 1978?)
  • R. Goodman (ed), Queensland Nurses (Brisb, 1985)
  • R. Goodman), Our War Nurses (Brisb, 1988)
  • H. Gregory, A Tradition of Care (Brisb, 1988)
  • Australian Nurses' Journal, Aug 1937, Apr, Dec 1948, Jan 1951, Nov 1952, Oct 1954
  • RANF Review (Brisbane), 7, no 1, Jan 1976
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 24 Mar 1943, 15 June 1946, 7 June, 20 Sept 1957
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Abbott, Joan Stevenson (Judy) (1899–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 December, 1899
Normanby Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


27 November, 1975 (aged 75)
Corinda, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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