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Margery Scott-Young (1912–1997)

by John Carmody and Brenda Heagney

This article was published online in 2023

Margery Scott-Young (1912–1997), surgeon, was born on 25 May 1912 in North Sydney, eldest of four children of English-born Reginald Charles Scott-Young, commercial traveller, and his Queensland-born wife Mary, née Crotty. The family lived at Neutral Bay and then Lane Cove. After one year at the Redlands Public School kindergarten, Margery moved to Monte Sant’ Angelo College in North Sydney, where she remained until completing the Leaving certificate in 1929. In 1925, after her sister suffered a ruptured appendix and nearly died, Margery ‘knew suddenly and irrevocably that I must become a doctor no matter how difficult that might prove to be’ (Scott-Young 1991, 31). Two of her siblings would also study medicine, but in 1930 she was one of only ten women in a class of one hundred first-year medical students at the University of Sydney (MB, BS, 1936; MS, 1947). She completed the course at the end of 1935 and was appointed to Sydney Hospital as a junior resident medical officer. Her brief ‘Toowoomba Interlude’ (Scott-Young 1991, 43) followed, working as resident medical officer at the local hospital, before her return to the south after her appointment as medical superintendent (1937–39) at Rachel Forster Hospital in Sydney, a hospital run by women for women.

Scott-Young’s next professional position was as resident medical officer at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, where she remained for a year. Transferring to general practice in 1940, she worked at the private practice of Kathleen Cunningham at Roseville. She enlisted in the army for service in World War II on 2 February 1942, and was commissioned captain and posted to the 113th Australian General Hospital, Concord. Promoted to temporary major in November 1944, she became deputy assistant director of medical services (women’s services) for the New South Wales Lines of Communication Area, Victoria Barracks, Sydney.

Demobilised in January 1946, Scott-Young became a part-time teaching fellow in anatomy at the University of Sydney (having been a part-time demonstrator there in 1941 when beginning her master’s degree work); she continued in the position until 1949. She was also part-time honorary assistant surgeon at Rachel Forster Hospital (1946–58), then honorary consultant surgeon (1958–72). Despite having passed the examinations for the master of surgery degree in 1946, she decided to return to general practice at Lane Cove. She built a house, including consulting rooms, on a block of land that she had owned for some time, constructing it with discarded bricks from a building site at Rachel Forster Hospital; she would live there for the rest of her life.

In June 1953 Scott-Young sailed for England where, after study at Guy’s Hospital, London, she added a fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons to her qualifications. Returning to Australia, in December she obtained her fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. She resumed her Sydney practice and her duties at the Rachel Forster Hospital, while seeking rooms in Macquarie Street, with the idea of establishing a specialist practice. Fortunately, space was available in a historic building at number 233, which Joseph Fowles had sketched and published in Sydney in 1848. Subsequently she moved into ‘Craignish,’ 185 Macquarie Street, in 1965, where she practised until June 1970. Forced out by the sale of the building, she moved into ‘Beanbah’ at 235 Macquarie Street, remaining at that address until her retirement in December 1979.

Scott-Young was a significant figure in Australian medical politics, including in the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association (later, from 1962, the Australian Medical Association). An energetic debater, she had joined the BMA in 1936 and became an active member of the Warringah District Medical Association; she was a member of the New South Wales branch council of the BMA/AMA from 1961 to 1965. Another of her important roles was honorary librarian of the AMA branch (1972–77): in 1976 she strongly opposed the closure of the library and the dispersal of its collection to the Westmead Hospital and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in Sydney. In 1979 she resigned from the AMA in protest, though she rejoined in 1988, thereafter becoming active on the Federal council’s ad hoc committee on women’s health. A life governor of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine (from 1977), she was vice president of the Medical Benevolent Association of New South Wales (1980–83) and president of the Australian Federation of Medical Women (1986–89). In addition, she was president of the Australian Drug and Medical Information Group (1975–80). She was elected a fellow of the AMA in 1971 and appointed CBE in 1977.

A friendly, generous, and charming woman—sometimes formidable, but always kind—she wrote two books: a memoir titled Family Bugles, 1854–1991 (1991) and History of the Medical Benevolent Association of NSW (1985), as well as the important historical paper ‘The Nationalization of Medicine’ (1962) in the Supplement of the Medical Journal of Australia. Wary of government schemes for a national health service that did not adequately incorporate the perspectives of medical practitioners, she called for clarity as to the aims of the profession, and vigilance in relation to government actions. A pianist, linguist, and enthusiastic gardener who never married, she died on 4 November 1997 at her home at Lane Cove and, after a funeral Mass at St Michael’s Catholic Church, Lane Cove, was buried in the Northern Suburbs Catholic cemetery. David Pope, president of the Medical Benevolent Association of New South Wales, wrote of her: ‘For Margery Scott-Young the pursuit of knowledge and understanding has been a life-time occupation’ (Scott-Young 1985, 7).

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX117869
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Royal College of Surgeons of England. ‘Scott-Young, Margery (1912–1997).’ Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows. Created 4 December 2015. Accessed 28 December 2021. https://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/client/en_GB/lives/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ASSET$002f0$002fSD_ASSET:381096/one. Copy held on ADB file
  • Scott-Young, Margery. Family Bugles 1854–1991. [Marrickville, NSW]: Southwood Press, 1991
  • Scott-Young, Margery. History of the Medical Benevolent Association of NSW. [St Leonards, NSW]: Medical Benevolent Association of NSW, 1985

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Carmody and Brenda Heagney, 'Scott-Young, Margery (1912–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scott-young-margery-32371/text40123, published online 2023, accessed online 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

25 May, 1912
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

4 November, 1997 (aged 85)
Lane Cove, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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