Testimonials of Miss Ethel Mary Vaughan Cowan, M.B., Ch.B.(1868–1943) (Cover Page)
A copy of the cover page of the testimonials in relation to Dr Ethel Mary Vaughan Cowan's character and abilities from peers and mentors at the University of Melbourne. Photocopy.
Dr Frederick Dougan Bird, M.B., M.S.
Dr George Alexander Syme, M.S., M.B.
Dr George Thomas Howard, B.A., B.S., M.D.
Dr Harold B. Allen, M.D.
Felix Meyër, M.B., B.S.
J.R. MacInerney, M.D.
John Williams, M.D.
W. Kent Hughes, M.B.
Thomas W. Fitzgerald
Dr Ethel Mary Vaughan Cowan (1868–1943) was the first female doctor employed at the Children’s Hospital, paving the way for innumerable women.
After undertaking nursing studies at Ballarat Hospital, Cowan graduated from the
University of Melbourne in 1897 with a Bachelor of Medicine, only six years after the first female medical graduate. She was one of only two women in her graduating class, and subsequently also graduated with a Bachelor of Surgery in 1898.
Dr Cowan faced rejection at her first few attempts at medical employment, including
her application to return to Ballarat Hospital. Her application to work as an assistant
medical officer at the Women’s Hospital was accompanied by the ‘most flattering
testimonials’, and her talents were described by the president of the hospital. However,a committee composed of women almost unanimously elected one of the two male applicants. This prompted a scathing article in Melbourne Punch:
Oh! woman, in your hour of ease
You may abuse us as you please;
When pain and anguish wring your brow
You want a male M.D., we vow.
In 1898, Dr Cowan was offered a one-month trial in the outpatients’ department of
the Children’s Hospital, without pay. Following her success in this role, she was offered a landmark appointment: an 18-month residency. This opportunity cemented Mary Cowan as the first female resident doctor at the Children’s Hospital, and one of the first in Victoria.Sir Charles Ryan (a member of the honorary medical staff) said: ‘I have formed a high opinion of her ability, and take pleasure in recommending her to any institution requiring the services of a well-qualified Resident Officer.’
Dr Cowan resigned the following year, and sailed to London on the steamer Yarrawonga as the ship’s registered doctor. This was an extraordinary occurrence—a female doctorfrom Melbourne did not travel again as a ship’s doctor for another 27 years. On returning to Melbourne in 1902, Dr Cowan was appointed honorary physician to the outpatients at the Queen Victoria Hospital (which had nine other female honorary medical staff),but resigned later that year. In 1904 she married William Stanley John Eaves and had two children, almost certainly signalling the end of her career, but leaving an undeniable legacy.
Dr Sarah McNab
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