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Emma Constance Stone (1856–1902)

by Penny Russell

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This is a shared entry with Grace Clara Stone

Emma Constance Stone (1856-1902) and Grace Clara Stone (1860-1957), medical practitioners, were born on 4 December 1856 and on 12 January 1860 in Hobart Town, daughters of William Stone, builder, and his wife Betsy, née Haydon. William Stone was their brother. The family moved to Melbourne in 1872. Both girls were educated chiefly at home by their mother, a former governess.

Constance early developed an interest in anatomy, but it was not until 1884 that she went overseas to study medicine, since the University of Melbourne did not then admit women to its medical course. She completed a three-year degree at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, United States of America, and in 1888 graduated M.D., Ch.M. with first-class honours from the University of Trinity College, Toronto, Canada. She then proceeded to London where she worked with Mary Scharlieb at the New Hospital for Women and qualified as licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. Her experience at the New Hospital was to inspire her ambition to found a hospital 'by women, for women' in Melbourne. This wish was reinforced by her early experience in Melbourne where she returned in 1890 to become the first woman to register with the Medical Board of Victoria. Photographs of the time portray her as a fine-featured woman with a high forehead and a strong, regular profile. She practised one day a week at the free dispensary attached to Dr Singleton's mission in Collingwood and was quickly convinced that work 'as great as their strength could compass' awaited female doctors who ministered to needy women.

By this time her sister Clara was almost ready to join her. In 1887 the university allowed women to enter its medical school and Clara was one of seven whose requests for admission had led to this change. She started her degree that year and in 1891 became one of the first two women to graduate in medicine from the university. She then went into private practice with Constance and joined her at the free dispensary.

Emily Mary Page Stone (1865-1910), cousin of Constance and Clara, was born on 31 May 1865 at Mornington, Victoria, daughter of John Stone, storekeeper, and his wife Laura Matilda, née Reed, both English born. When she was 10 she went to England and stayed for six years with an aunt who kept a ladies' boarding school at Kew where Mary was educated. She trained as a teacher, returned to Melbourne and taught at various private schools. After attending classes at the Athenaeum to prepare herself to matriculate at the University of Melbourne, she commenced her medical studies there in 1889. In 1893 she graduated, having gained honours in each year of her course, and was placed sixth in the final examination. This result should have entitled her to a residency at the Melbourne Hospital, but her application was refused on the pretext that she had carried out her clinical studies entirely at the Alfred Hospital. The Melbourne Hospital did not admit any women to its residencies until 1896. Mary began private practice at Windsor but, after a few months, moved to Hawthorn.

Constance, Clara and Mary were all involved in the early activities and networks of Melbourne's female doctors. Constance's home was the venue for the first meeting in March 1895 of the Victorian Medical Women's Society, formed with the chief object of 'effecting a closer relationship between medical women graduates and undergraduates and to advance the knowledge to further their interests generally'. Clara was the first president and all three women supported the society throughout their lives. At a meeting held on 5 September 1896 eleven women doctors decided to set up a hospital of their own: their vision, and its subsequent achievement, was attributed by the others to Constance's inspired leadership. From its beginnings as an out-patients' dispensary in La Trobe Street (where the three Drs Stone worked on Monday mornings), the Queen Victoria Hospital, funded by a jubilee shilling fund appeal, evolved and was officially opened in July 1899.

By this time Constance Stone was ill; she died of tuberculosis on 29 December 1902. She had married Dr David Egryn Jones in the Congregational Church, St Kilda, on 4 July 1893; he survived her, as did their young daughter who was later also to become a doctor. Clara remained on the honorary staff of the Queen Victoria Hospital until 1919 and, after retiring from this position, continued in private practice in Alma Road, St Kilda. She died, unmarried, at her St Kilda home, on 10 May 1957 and was cremated.

In addition to her work at the hospital, Mary Page Stone maintained a close involvement with the National Council of Women, being honorary secretary of the Victorian branch in 1904-10. At the first congress of the N.C.W. in October 1903 she presented a paper on epileptic colonies, thereby inspiring the Talbot Colony for Epileptics which opened at Clayton in 1907 and with which she was deeply involved. She died on 18 December 1910, after her bicycle collided with a wagon, and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. The N.C.W. initiated a movement to have an operating theatre for out-patients at the Queen Victoria Hospital (opened 1912) as her memorial.

The contribution of the three Drs Stone to the initial group of medical women and to the health of Melbourne's poor was inestimable. Constance was described by one of her medical colleagues, Janet Lindsay Greig, as 'the real pioneer' who alone deserved the honour of having started the Queen Victoria Hospital; Clara was said to be 'the hard worker', a tiny, bird-like woman of indomitable character who was a loyal friend to the younger generation in the V.M.W.S.; Mary was 'always ready to help in any cause furthering the welfare of women and the community at large, and was much beloved by her private patients'. All three embodied a spirit of service and sacrifice characteristic of the early professional women in this country.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Neve, This Mad Folly (Syd, 1980)
  • Southern Sphere, 1 Jan 1911
  • Queen Victoria Hospital (Melbourne), Annual Report, 1920
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 Jan 1903
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 May 1957
  • P. A. Russell, Mothers of the Race (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1982)
  • M. Wells, ‘Gentlemen, the Ladies Have Come to Stay’ (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1988)
  • Stone papers (State Library of Victoria).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Penny Russell, 'Stone, Emma Constance (1856–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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