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Vera Scantlebury Brown (1889–1946)

by Kate Campbell

This article was published:

Vera Scantlebury Brown (1889-1946), medical practitioner, was born on 6 August 1889 at Linton, Victoria, daughter of George James Scantlebury, medical practitioner, and his wife Catherine Millington, née Baynes, both Victorian born. Her father, greatly interested in psychiatry, took mentally handicapped people into his home at Cheltenham, where Vera was much influenced by her contact with them. She was educated at Toorak College and then entered the medical school at the University of Melbourne where she was resident at Janet Clarke Hall. At school and college she won both affection and academic distinction.

After graduating (M.B., B.S., 1914), Dr Scantlebury was appointed resident medical officer at the Melbourne Hospital. In 1915 she joined the resident staff of the Children's Hospital. For the next three years she performed a herculean task coping with staff shortages and other difficulties due to wartime conditions. In 1917 she sailed to England and was attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps as assistant surgeon to Dr L. Garrett Anderson at Endell Street Military Hospital. Returning in 1919 she was given many honorary appointments to different hospitals and institutions including the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children, the Women's and Children's hospitals, the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association and the Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria. Her appointment as medical officer to the Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School set the pattern of regular medical inspection of pupils at private schools. In 1921, while retaining her honorary responsibilities, she became part-time medical officer in charge of city baby health centres. Awarded the degree of doctor of medicine in 1924, Dr Scantlebury that year visited New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America, particularly to study child welfare work.

In 1925 the Victorian government appointed Dr Scantlebury and Dr Henrietta Main to make a survey of the welfare of women and children, comparing Victoria with New Zealand. In 1926 the government created a section of infant welfare in the Health Department, and Dr Scantlebury was appointed part-time director, a position she held until her death. On 18 September 1926 at St Bede's Anglican church, Elwood, she married Dr Edward Byam Brown, then lecturer, later associate-professor of engineering, at the University of Melbourne. Their two children provided Dr Scantlebury Brown, as she was now known, with practical experience to complement her theoretical knowledge of child care.

Under her guidance and inspiration the sphere of infant welfare work expanded rapidly and significantly. She introduced a compulsory course and examination for sisters at infant welfare centres, where the knowledge disseminated was a factor in lowering morbidity and mortality among infants. As director she established liaison with the obstetric service, enabling expectant mothers to attend welfare centres for supplementary advice. In 1929 she published A Guide to Infant Feeding in which, as in other publications, she was assisted by her husband, who made the measurements and calibrations for her. A pioneer in her efforts to broaden infant welfare to include the pre-school child, she wrote a report in 1937 for the National Health and Medical Research Council which prompted government funding of the Lady Gowrie Child Centres. In 1944 she added the pre-school to the Health Department's responsibilities. Her 1927 publication was expanded to include the pre-school child and was reissued in 1947 as A Guide to the Care of the Young Child.

Dr Scantlebury Brown's work in pioneering the three fields of infant welfare, ante-natal and pre-school care was arduous. Often confronted by apathy or obstruction and frustrated by rivalries between the two streams of the infant welfare movement, she needed all her dedication and skill to overcome them. Deeply respected for her professional abilities and highly regarded as a generous, warm, kindly human being, she was appointed O.B.E. in 1938. Vera Scantlebury Brown died on 14 July 1946 of cancer and was buried with Anglican rites in Cheltenham cemetery. Her husband, daughter and son survived her. In November 1946 the Vera Scantlebury Brown Child Welfare Memorial Trust established an annual travelling scholarship of £750.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Neve, This Mad Folly (Syd, 1980)
  • K. Reiger, ‘Vera Scantlebury Brown’ and for bibliography, in F. Kelly and M. Lake (eds), Double Time, Women in Victoria, 150 Years (Melb, 1985)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 14 Sept 1946
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 July 1946.

Citation details

Kate Campbell, 'Scantlebury Brown, Vera (1889–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Scantlebury, Vera

6 August, 1889
Linton, Victoria, Australia


14 July, 1946 (aged 56)
Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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.