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Elaine Marjory Little (1884–1974)

by Brenda Heagney

This article was published:

Elaine Marjory Little (1884-1974), pathologist, was born on 2 June 1884 in Brisbane, second of four daughters of Joseph Henry Little, an Irish-born medical practitioner, and his English-born wife Agnes Elisabeth, née Mellor. After his wife died in 1890, Dr Little took his family to England for several years; back in Australia, he practised at Armidale, New South Wales, and then in Brisbane. Marjory attended private schools in Brisbane and England, and the Girls' High School, Armidale. A small legacy enabled her to enrol (1906) in science at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1911; M.B., 1915). She lived in Women's College (1906-10) and was a resident tutor (1914-15) there while demonstrating in pathology.

Junior (1915) and senior (1916-17) resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Little replaced A. H. Tebbutt (who was on active service) as the hospital's pathologist. Following his return, she wanted to enlist. As the Australian Army Medical Corps did not admit female medical officers, she paid her own fare to England and began work at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, London. She was appointed captain, Royal Army Medical Corps, in April 1918. The institute's director (Sir) Charles Martin, then working in France, called her to Rouen where she served as pathologist with the 25th Stationary Hospital. She co-authored a report on fatal influenza cases in British army hospitals in France which was published by the Medical Research Council (Great Britain). Later she took charge of the isolation hospital (46th S.H.) laboratory at Étaples, earning the praise of her commanding officer Colonel S. R. Cummins. When the cold and discomforts of winter had given way to spring, Marjory found solace in the adjoining pine forest: 'those to whom the forest had become like a close friend knew where to find the glades where the primroses and lilies-of-the-valley flowered'.

Having returned to Sydney in January 1920, Dr Little resumed her post as a demonstrator at the university, set up private practice as a pathologist in Macquarie Street, and published 'Life in a Lab in France' in the Sydney University Medical Journal (1923) and an article on dysentery in the Medical Journal of Australia (1923). She was appointed consulting haematologist at Sydney and Royal North Shore hospitals, and honorary pathologist at the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children (she was to be a board-member in 1949-62). President (1935-36) of the Medical Women's Society of New South Wales and one of the few women invited to become a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938, she also became a fellow (1956) of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia.

In 1958 Little gave the annual postgraduate oration of the faculty of medicine in the university's Great Hall. It was entitled 'Some pioneer medical women of the University of Sydney' and was based on the careers of her friends, among them Elsie Dalyell, Margaret Harper and Susie O'Reilly. Marjory was tall, with a severe hair-style, and seemed forbidding, but beneath her stern exterior she was kind and friendly, and dedicated to encouraging younger medical women. Retiring from practice in 1952, she spent her remaining years enjoying her house and garden at Pymble. She died on 2 May 1974 at Lane Cove and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the Great War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • L. Cohen, Rachel Forster Hospital (Syd, 1972)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1 (Syd, 1988)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 31 Aug 1974, p 338
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives (Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Brenda Heagney, 'Little, Elaine Marjory (1884–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 February 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]


2 June, 1884
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


2 May, 1974 (aged 89)
Lane Cove, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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