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Lilian Violet Cooper (1861–1947)

by C. A. C. Leggett

This article was published:

Lilian Violet Cooper (1861-1947), medical practitioner, was born on 11 August 1861 at Chatham, Kent, England, daughter of Henry Fallowfield Cooper, captain of Royal Marines, and his wife Elizabeth, née Shewell. Educated privately, she dedicated herself to medicine when young. Despite parental opposition, she entered the London School of Medicine for Women in 1886, completed the course in October 1890 and, after passing the conjoint examinations of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, received a licentiate from Edinburgh.

Cooper worked briefly and unhappily for a practitioner in Halstead, Essex, then came to Brisbane in May 1891 with her lifelong friend Josephine Bedford, and in June became the first female doctor registered in Queensland. Induced to work for an alcoholic doctor, she finally secured a cancellation of her contract and was boycotted professionally for two years. She was allowed to join the Medical Society of Queensland in 1893, and later became an honorary in the Hospital for Sick Children and the Lady Lamington Hospital for Women. In 1905 she became associated with the Mater Misericordiae Hospital and stayed with it for the rest of her life.

In June 1911 Cooper returned to England. Travelling through the United States of America, she visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland; she then went on to win a doctorate of medicine from the University of Durham in June 1912. With Miss Bedford she joined the Scottish Women's Hospitals in 1915, served for twelve months, including a time in Macedonia, and was awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava, fourth-class.

Cooper settled again in Brisbane after the war and, despite an unsuccessful action for damages against her in 1923, won a large and successful practice. A tall, angular, brusque, energetic woman, prone to bad language, she travelled first by bicycle but became an early motorist and did most of her own running repairs. In 1926 she bought a house called Old St Mary's in Main Street, Kangaroo Point, and settled there in semi-retirement, becoming a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1928. She retired in 1941 and died in her home on 18 August 1947. She was buried in Toowong cemetery with Anglican rites; her estate, sworn for probate at £12,315 in Queensland and £2896 in New South Wales, was left mainly to members of her family.

After Cooper's death Miss Bedford gave the site for the Mount Olivet Hospital of the Sisters of Charity, part of which was entitled 'the Lilian Cooper Nursing Home'. St Mary's Church of England in Kangaroo Point has memorial windows and an altar on the frontal of which is embroidered Dr Cooper's medal of St Sava.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • E. S. Morgan, A Short History of Medical Women in Australia (Adel, 1970)
  • H. J. Summers, They Crossed the River (Brisb, 1979)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 30 Aug, 11 Oct 1947
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 15 Nov 1970
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeon Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

C. A. C. Leggett, 'Cooper, Lilian Violet (1861–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 August, 1861
Clapham, Kent, England


18 August, 1947 (aged 86)
Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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Military Service