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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greenham, Eleanor Constance (Ella) (1874–1957)

by Lesley Williams

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Eleanor Constance (Ella) Greenham (1874-1957), medical practitioner, was born on 15 April 1874 at Ipswich, Queensland, second child and only daughter of John Greenham, an English-born draper, and his wife Eleanor, née Johnstone, from Ireland. John later established a general store, Greenhams Pty Ltd, in the business centre at Ipswich. Ella attended Ipswich Central Girls' and Infants' School then Brisbane Girls' Grammar School, where she won the English and the natural history prizes. On 1 February 1892 she was the first pupil to be enrolled at Ipswich Girls' Grammar School. There she won the silver medal for the top girl in science and four other prizes. Passing the senior public examination next year and winning six more prizes, she proceeded to advanced studies for university entrance.

In 1895 Greenham went to Women's College within the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1901), entering the faculty of arts as a necessary preliminary to her medical studies. She was the first Queensland-born woman to graduate in medicine. Registered to practise in Brisbane on 2 May 1901 as medical practitioner no.711, she began work as resident medical officer at the Lady Bowen Hospital, Brisbane, probably becoming the first woman to receive a residential position in a Queensland hospital. Choosing to work in private practice, in 1903 she took rooms in City Chambers, Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane, moving in 1907 to 284 Edward Street. Although she met opposition from some male colleagues, her bright personality and attentive care gradually attracted patients and she built up a successful practice.

Greenham was dedicated to her profession and, like many early medical women, she did not marry. She was an accomplished pianist, enjoyed attending the theatre and visiting flower shows and was described as 'a large lady, fond of flowing, floral garments'; at the lady mayoress's 'At Home' in 1904 she wore an Assam silk gown and a hat of blue chiffon. One of the earliest women car-owners in Queensland, she drove a Darracq in 1907 and later a Hupmobile. Indeed, she became a shareholder in the Hupmobile agency, Evers Motor Co. Ltd, Brisbane. She also became chairman of directors of Greenhams Pty Ltd.

In 1945 the Queensland Medical Women's Society elected her to honorary membership for her contribution to women's health and in 1953 she was made honorary member of the British Medical Association (Queensland Branch) for fifty years uninterrupted membership. In her eightieth year she retired to 85 Oxlade Drive, New Farm, but she continued to treat her old patients.

Greenham was a pioneer and a skilful, caring doctor. By her persistence and expertise, she swept away difficulties and opposition, helping to shape the future for women in medicine in Queensland. She died on 31 December 1957 at New Farm and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • L. M. Williams, ‘A Pioneer not a Traditionalist: the Life and Work of Dr. Eleanor Greenham’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 15, no 1, Feb 1993, p 26
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 Dec 1890, p 5, 11 Mar 1904, p 6
  • Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School archives
  • Women’s College, University of Sydney Archives
  • Queensland Medical Women’s Society Archives
  • AMA Archives, Brisbane.

Citation details

Lesley Williams, 'Greenham, Eleanor Constance (Ella) (1874–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 27 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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