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Margaret Amelia Corlis (1840–1925)

by Norma King

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Margaret Amelia Corlis (c.1840–1925), medical practitioner, was born at Townsend, Ontario, Canada, daughter of Adam Walker, a farmer. Margaret attended Villa Nova public school and became a teacher. In 1862 at Villa Nova she married Josiah Corlis (1841-1922), also from Townsend. He became a Baptist minister but soon moved to Montreal where he enrolled in medicine at McGill University (M.D., C.M., 1869) while his wife supported him by taking in medical students as boarders. Josiah practised at St Thomas's Hospital, Ontario, and also had a chemist shop there. The couple had three sons and also a daughter, whose death from diphtheria may have been the reason for Margaret's decision to study medicine. Despite her age and her child-rearing responsibilities, in 1881 she installed a housekeeper and enrolled in the medical school at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario (M.D., Ch.M., 1885), becoming one of the first five female graduates of the school.

The Corlises migrated to Sydney in 1891, their eldest son staying behind to complete his studies in veterinary science before joining them. The two younger boys arrived with their parents and, like them, became doctors. On 11 May 1892 Margaret registered in New South Wales and opened a practice in Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Afterwards, she and her husband set up a joint practice at Bellingen.

Josiah moved to Southern Cross, Western Australia, in 1894 and then to Coolgardie to help during a typhoid epidemic. Margaret joined him in 1895 and practised at Coolgardie. By November that year Josiah had been appointed surgeon and physician of the hospital and miners' institute, Menzies. Soon Margaret was also working there: in May 1897 T'Othersider reported that the hospital (a canvas building) had 'the benefit of two doctors for the price of one . . . Mrs Corlis is probably the only she-physician in W.A.' Margaret was parted from her husband from up to a week at a time, attending out-patients and travelling long distances, often on camels. According to a descendant, she 'had her own Afghan camel attendant with one particularly good bull camel of uncertain temperament. She had scars where this animal bit her in several places'.

Returning to New South Wales in December 1903, the Corlises then went to Canada for the first of two holidays. Although retired, Josiah was a ship's doctor on passenger steamers in the Pacific islands and Asia, and Margaret accompanied him. In later years they sometimes worked as locum tenens for their sons and other doctors in New South Wales. Barely 5 ft (152 cm) tall, Margaret had good health all her enterprising life. After unsuccessful operations for cataracts she became blind but still successfully delivered a baby in an emergency, with the help of a neighbour. Following Josiah's death on 8 July 1922, she lived with her son Charles at Bangalow. She died on 6 January 1925 at Grafton and was buried in Bangalow cemetery with Presbyterian forms. Her sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Hacker, The Indomitable Lady Doctors (Toronto, 1974)
  • N. King, Daughters of Midas (Perth, 1988)
  • Royal Australian Historical Society, History, no 25, Oct 1992, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Jan 1925, p 8.

Citation details

Norma King, 'Corlis, Margaret Amelia (1840–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Walker, Margaret

Townsend, Ontario, Canada


6 January, 1925 (aged ~ 85)
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia

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