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Selina Courtenay Marshall (1899–1990)

by Brenda Heagney

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Mary Grace Courtenay Puckey

Selina Puckey (left) and her sister Mary, n.d.

Selina Puckey (left) and her sister Mary, n.d.

Wollongong City Library, P15/​P15209

Mary Grace Courtenay Puckey (1898–1990), medical practitioner and hospital administrator, was born on 17 February 1898 at Wollongong, New South Wales, eldest of three daughters of English-born Courtenay Puckey, pharmacist, and his wife Grace, née Spence, born in New South Wales. The family, regarded as somewhat eccentric, lived in a large house, Seafield, at Fairy Meadow. Courtenay had a salt works on his property. Mary was educated at Wollongong High School and at the University of Sydney (MB, Ch.M., 1923; DPH, 1925), where she was a resident at Women’s College.

In 1925-37 Puckey worked as a medical inspector of schools in the Education Department of South Australia. She was a bacteriologist and assistant medical officer at the Metropolitan Infectious Diseases Hospital, Northfield, Adelaide, from 1937, later acting as medical superintendent. In 1941 she took up the post of chief executive officer (subsequently renamed general superintendent) at the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children, Redfern, Sydney. She was the first woman to be appointed to this office in an Australian hospital.

An enthusiastic administrator, with a concern for standardisation, Puckey oversaw a period of expansion during which the hospital increased from twelve to 120 beds and established a nurses’ training school. One of her most significant achievements was in medical record-keeping: she set up a medical records library at Rachel Forster and was a driving force behind the creation in 1949 of the New South Wales Association of Medical Records Librarians, becoming its first president. While travelling overseas she inspected new developments, including equipment, and discussed methods of keeping medical records with colleagues in Britain, Europe and the United States of America.

In 1949 Puckey explained her philosophy on the importance of good records in an article entitled ‘Medical Records: One Problem of a Hospital Administrator’, published in the first issue of Australian Modern Hospital. She became an associate (1953) of the Australian Institute of Hospital Administrators and served on its council. A member from 1923 of the British Medical Association (later Australian Medical Association), she served on the New South Wales branch council, representing women graduates, in 1958-61 (BMA) and 1962-65 (AMA). She was president (1951-54) and a life member of the Medical Women’s Society of New South Wales. In 1963 she was appointed MBE.

According to Margery Scott-Young, a surgeon and board member of Rachel Forster Hospital, Puckey was ‘probably quite unaware of the degree to which she was persona grata with her staff. Resident medical officers, nursing and domestic staff all clearly approved of the quiet, serious and very pleasant woman whom they called “the Boss”’. Lysbeth Cohen, in her brief history of the hospital, described her as ‘a very fair and just woman, she treated her staff well and never spared herself. For her, the patient was the most important person in the hospital’.

Puckey did not marry and lived in a flat at the hospital. She retired in 1962. After a trip to England she moved to Blackheath, where she shared a house with her sister Selina. Active in the Blue Mountains Medical Association, Mary served as its honorary secretary for some years. She died on 25 March 1990 at Wentworth Falls and was cremated.

Selina Courtenay Puckey (1899-1990) was a medical practitioner, who had also attended Wollongong High School and the University of Sydney (MB, Ch.M., 1924; DPH, 1926). She became a ship’s doctor for Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd in 1925, travelling to the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, where she met and married William Marshall. After they were evacuated to Australia in 1941 she became medical superintendent of the Renwick Hospital for Infants, Summer Hill, Sydney; she retired in 1963. Dr Marshall died on 19 June 1990 at Katoomba and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Cohen, Rachel Forster Hospital (1984)
  • R. Annable (comp), Biographical Register: The Women’s College Within the University of Sydney, vol 1 (1995)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 21 May 1990, p 555
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Dec 1940, p 4, 2 July 1963, p 11, 3 Apr 1990, p 8
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 28 Oct 1962, p 110
  • South Coast Times, 3 Jan 1963, p 26
  • Rachel Forster Hospital records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Brenda Heagney, 'Marshall, Selina Courtenay (1899–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Selina Puckey (left) and her sister Mary, n.d.

Selina Puckey (left) and her sister Mary, n.d.

Wollongong City Library, P15/​P15209

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Puckey, Selina Courtenay

New South Wales, Australia


19 June, 1990 (aged ~ 91)
Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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