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Dorothy Jean Hailes (1926–1988)

by Cecily Hunter

This article was published:

Dorothy Jean Hailes (1926-1988), medical practitioner, was born on 22 June 1926, at Ascot Vale, Melbourne, second of three daughters of Victorian-born parents William Allan Hailes, surgeon, and his wife Mary Maud, née Whitfield. Jean was educated at Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School, where she was head prefect in 1943, and then at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1949). She completed her medical training as a resident medical officer (1950) at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. On 21 November 1951 at Christ Church, South Yarra, she married with Anglican rites Henry Buckhurst Kay, also a medical practitioner.

Hailes’s interest in women’s health was stimulated early in her career. As a medical officer at Travancore Developmental Centre, a Mental Hygiene Authority facility for intellectually disabled children, she realised the importance of a mother’s good health for the well-being of her family. Later, in general practice, her sense of fairness was affronted by fellow doctors’ neglect of the `minor’ symptoms brought to them by ageing women. These concerns were focused when, during a visit to the United States of America in the late 1960s, she met Robert Greenblatt, a physician and early advocate of the use of hormone therapy to address the health needs of menopausal women.

Returning to Melbourne, Hailes confronted the reluctance of Australian medical practitioners to promote this treatment, because of their concerns about side-effects. She gained the support of Professor Bryan Hudson, honorary director, and Dr Henry Burger, executive director, of the Medical Research Centre, Prince Henry’s Hospital. As honorary clinical assistant (1971-80) she began seeing women with menopausal symptoms in the hospital’s department of endocrinology and diabetes and established a weekly half-day clinic, staffed by sympathetic women doctors, and accepting patients without medical referral. An overwhelming response vindicated Hailes’s enterprise. In 1976 a second clinic was established at the Royal Women’s Hospital. Hailes, who was working there as a clinical assistant in the family planning clinic, became a menopause counsellor (1978-86).

Through well-balanced advocacy, Hailes won support in mainstream medicine for the development of clinical and research expertise relating to the health of older women. At Prince Henry’s she developed a research program in hormone replacement therapy; the first of her several papers on this subject, `Oestrogens and Menopausal and Post-menopausal Women’, was written with Burger and published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1977. In 1982 she was one of a group of doctors who established a national conference on menopause, the forerunner of the Australasian Menopause Society; she funded an annual prize for the best paper given at society meetings.

Direct in confronting `myths’, Hailes was also skilled in raising public awareness, and ready to speak on talkback radio and to community groups. Her popular booklet The Middle Years (1980) had run to three editions by 1986. She sought to extend the control that women already had of their fertility to their management of menopause, to encourage healthy, productive lives. Her emphasis on autonomy was shared with the feminist movement’s concurrent campaign to establish women’s health services; her work, however, was distinguished by its confidence in the treatment of menopause as a hormone deficiency condition.

With highly developed self-discipline, reflecting her experience in a professional environment dominated by masculine values, Hailes maintained an extensive commitment to health care, including service as medical officer to the Australian Red Cross Society (Victorian division) blood transfusion service (1962-72) and to the student health services of Monash University (1972) and the University of Melbourne (1972-75). In 1986 she was appointed AM. She died of cancer on 27 November 1988 at South Yarra and was cremated. Her husband, their two daughters and their son survived her. The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health, established in 1992, has ensured the continuation of her work in its clinical, research and educative dimensions.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Sept 1977, p 13, 3 Sept 1980, p 16
  • Medical Journal of Australia , 16 Oct 1989, p 482
  • M. Guillemin, Unravelling the Account of Menopause as Hormone Deficiency: Working Practices of the Menopause Clinic (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 1996)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Cecily Hunter, 'Hailes, Dorothy Jean (1926–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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