Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ellen Mary Kent Hughes (1893–1979)

by L. A. Gilbert

This article was published:

Ellen Mary Kent Hughes (1893-1979), medical practitioner and alderman, was born on 29 August 1893 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, eldest of seven children of Wilfred Kent Hughes, a Victorian-born surgeon, and his wife Clementina Jane, née Rankin (d.1916), a nurse from England. Ellen was a niece of Rev. Ernest Selwyn Hughes, and a sister of (Sir) Wilfrid Kent Hughes and Gwenda Lloyd. She attended Ruyton Girls' School, Kew, then remained at home in 1912 until her mother was discharged from a tuberculosis sanatorium. In the following year Ellen entered Trinity College Hostel, University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1917). On 31 July 1917 at St Monica's Catholic Presbytery, Footscray, she married Paul René Loubet, a divorcee from France and a medical-assistant at the Children's Hospital, Melbourne. Widowed three months later, Ellen bore Paul's son. Colleagues found her temporary work at Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital for Women and Children; they also found her a nanny, Alice Pickup, who remained an esteemed member of Ellen's household for fifty-four years.

In 1918 Dr Kent Hughes, as she was known professionally, was appointed resident medical officer at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane, on a salary of £50 a year. Mother and baby lived in quarters, with Alice nearby. One year later Ellen accepted a locum tenency at Mitchell at a time when the State was gripped by drought and the pneumonic influenza epidemic. There, on 26 August 1920, at All Saints Anglican Church she married Francis Garde Wesley Wilson (d.1970), a returned soldier and auctioneer; they were to have a son and three daughters. In 1921 the Wilsons went to Kingaroy where Mrs Wilson was elected (1923) to the shire council.

In 1928 the family moved to Armidale, New South Wales. With extraordinary energy, 'a co-operative husband' and Alice ('Nanny'), Dr Kent Hughes combined medical practice (with Roger Mallam) and community service. She 'never found that being a woman had the slightest adverse effect' on her career. Honorary paediatrician at the Armidale and New England Hospital, government medical officer and a justice of the peace, she was 'tireless in her ministrations', 'firm in her admonitions' and resolute in answering calls. She published two articles in the Medical Journal of Australia, 'Observations on Congenital Syphilis' (1919) and 'The Role of the Private Practitioner in Preventive Medicine' (1967).

Aboriginal women had nursed her Hughes grandmother near Armidale after the loss of her first child. Ellen felt a long-standing debt to their people. One of her chief cares was the health of the local Aboriginal community, especially the mothers and children. Although she was criticized for her moral and maternalistic views, she retained wide respect and affection: her twinkling eyes and wide smile softened her brusque manner. She worshipped for fifty years at St Peter's Cathedral and was a member of its parish council. A devout Anglo-Catholic, she donated Eucharistic vestments to St Mary's Church and invited home a succession of curates to give them 'the once over'!

As Alderman Wilson she served (1937-68) on the Armidale City Council (deputy-mayor 1963-64); she pursued such causes as urban beautification and housing for Aborigines with characteristic persistence, especially if she sensed male indifference. In 1968 she was appointed M.B.E. Dr Kent Hughes qualified as a fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in 1971 and was granted the freedom of the city of Armidale in 1975. Her physician ordered her to retire in 1977. Survived by her five children, she died on 16 May 1979 at Armidale and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 1990 her residence was opened as Kent House, a community centre.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Howard, Kent Hughes (Melb, 1972)
  • L. M. Hellstedt (ed), Women Physicians of the World (Washington, 1978)
  • M. A. Franklin, Assimilation in Action (Armidale, NSW, 1995)
  • Queenslander, 28 July, 4 Aug 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10, 16 Jan 1957
  • Armidale Express, 3 Jan 1968, 16 Nov 1970, 22 Aug 1975, 16, 18 May 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Kent Hughes, Ellen Mary (1893–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wilson, Ellen

29 August, 1893
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


16 May, 1979 (aged 85)
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia

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