Medical Women’s Walking Tour of Melbourne 2020

A group of Victorian medical women and their guests were fortunate to spend an Autumn morning exploring the Melbourne CBD in the 2020 Medical Women’s Walking Tour, guided by our in-house history buff and VMWS archivist, Dr Anne Stanaway.

We met on the steps of Parliament House, the gardens of which are home to a Plaque commemorating the Victorian pioneer suffragist, Vida Goldstein. Here we discussed and admired some Victorian medical women trailblazers, including Dr Constance Stone, a VMWS founder, who became Australia’s first registered medical woman in the late 1800s. Dr Stone had ventured overseas to obtain her medical education, since women were not permitted to study medicine in Australia at the time.

Through an historical lens, we appreciated buildings and sites that we pass every day – the Great Petition sculpture at Burston Reserve, old medical practices in Collins Street (including the site of Dr Stone’s consulting rooms), the Lyceum Club, the Athenaeum (a site at which medical women often met to discuss social issues), the Women’s Venereal Disease Clinic on Little Lonsdale Street, and even the site of the first public toilet for women in Melbourne, a facility achieved via the lobbying of many Melbournian women. The stories of these sites served to remind us to pause, reflect, and appreciate places, as we often rush through or past them, without realising their history or value.

A tour of Victorian medical women’s history would of course not be complete without visiting the various sites and evolutions of the Queen Victoria Hospital. As you likely know, this was a health service developed and run by women, to serve the needs of women, whose health often suffered as a result of the many inequalities of the time. The important sites at which we were able to reflect on this history included the Welsh Church, the old Governess’s Institute in Mint Place, and the Lonsdale Street Hospital.

We followed all of this history with some caffeine and conversation, in a Melbourne laneway coffee shop. Thank you to all who joined for the wonderful company and historical insights, and to Dr Anne Stanaway for organising such an excellent walking tour. If this is a walk in which you might be interested, please keep an eye on our newsletters for the next one, or alternatively you can follow the online walking guide, available here.

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Claire Felmingham