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Roberta Henrietta Jull (1872–1961)

by Patricia Sholl Church

This article was published:

Roberta Henrietta Margaritta Jull (1872-1961), medical practitioner, was born on 16 August 1872 in Glasgow, Scotland, second of four children of Robert Stewart, minister of the Free Church in Lisbon, and his wife Isabella Henrietta, née Fergusson. Educated at schools in London and Scotland, Roberta returned to Portugal to nurse her mother (d.1890). Encouraged by her father, a 'follower of John Stuart Mill and believing in equal opportunity for men and women', she realized her ambition to study medicine and with her brother Fergusson began a medical course at Glasgow University, following their elder brother Mitchell. Excluded from lectures for men students, the women attended Queen Margaret College and the Royal Infirmary. Such experiences of discrimination were powerful influences in Roberta's work for women. In 1896, after an extra year studying diseases of the eye, she graduated M.B., C.M. In November 1896 she joined her brothers' practice at Guildford, Western Australia, and was dismayed by the living conditions and high infant mortality among her patients.

In 1897 she joined the Karrakatta Club for Women in Perth and formed lasting friendships with women dedicated to social reform, including Edith Cowan and M. Phoebe Holmes. She set up a practice in Perth, the first woman to do so. In 1898, with Dr H. Horrocks, Roberta initiated moves which established a branch of the British Medical Association in Perth. On 12 November at Guildford Roberta married Martin Edward Jull. Their only child (b.1901), became the writer Henrietta Drake-Brockman. Ill health took her to Britain for treatment in 1910. She was centred at St Andrews, Scotland. Dr Jull increased her medico-social knowledge, studied botany and socialism, and attended a conference in Glasgow of the National Union of Women Workers of Great Britain and Ireland. She returned to Western Australia in 1913.

Roberta Jull became a respected force for social reform, with education and health of women and children paramount. From 1909 she was a foundation member of the Children's Protection Society (its honorary medical adviser and parent counsellor) and of the Women's Service Guild; from 1913 a member of the Western Australian National Council of Women (president, and delegate to the International Council of Women in Vienna in 1930). She campaigned effectively for the early closing bill and for conscription in the referenda 1916-17. In 1915, having originally opposed it, she supported legislation for compulsory notification and treatment of venereal diseases, for reasons typically far sighted and informed. An authority on this subject and prostitution, Roberta was adviser to the 1938 royal commission on the administration of Perth City Council; she opposed licensing of brothels. Her association with students had begun in 1896 as local supervisor of public examinations for the University of Adelaide. After the University of Western Australia opened in 1913 she became a member of Convocation (warden 1925-30) and of the Senate (1914-42). Roberta acted to form the Association of University Women in 1923, was its first president and initiator of the prolonged efforts to establish the residential university women's college (St Catherine's); she was a member of its first council in 1946.

After her husband's death she became in 1918 the first medical officer of schools in the Public Health Department. Her reports drew attention for the first time to the widespread health defects of children, especially in outback areas. She took a leading part in the extension of infant health centres of which she was superintendent, and studied child welfare programmes in Britain, New South Wales and New Zealand in 1921 and 1925. Before royal commissions on education (1921) and health (1925) Dr Jull pressed for child endowment and facilities for the mentally defective. She retired from the department in 1928. Her last report recorded significant reductions in infant mortality.

She was devoted to the cause of peace and disarmament, she represented the N.C.W. in the local League of Nations Union. In 1922 she attended a league summer school at the Oxford University and was an alternate delegate for Australia at the 1929 league assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, presenting a paper on traffic in women and children.

Roberta Jull was a prolific writer, lecturer and broadcaster on subjects ranging from ante-natal education and the higher education of women to the promotion of international peace; her influence was widespread over thirty years. Internationalist and practical, she envisaged women as co-workers with men in effecting politico-social reforms, with education as the instrument. In recognition of her work, especially 'in the cause of women', the university conferred an honorary doctorate of laws in 1943, and St Catherine's College its first honorary fellowship in 1951 — its Jull common room has a bronze plaque in her likeness by Edgar Steitz.

From 1945 increasing deafness caused her withdrawal from public affairs. She died at Subiaco on 6 March 1961 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; her ashes were scattered over her husband's grave.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Stewart, St. Catherine's College (Perth, 1978)
  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • F. K. Crowley, Australia's Western Third (Melb, 1960)
  • Commissioner of Public Health, Annual Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Western Australia), 1929
  • Western Mail (Perth), 25 Dec 1915
  • West Australian, 2 June 1921
  • R. Jull papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Patricia Sholl Church, 'Jull, Roberta Henrietta (1872–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Roberta Jull, n.d.

Roberta Jull, n.d.

National Library of Australia, 28615024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stewart, Roberta Henrietta

16 August, 1872
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


6 March, 1961 (aged 88)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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