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Mary De Garis

b. 1881 – 1963


“I shall always remember my association with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals with pleasure. Practical experience has convinced me that women run things very well, making me a more ardent feminist than ever.” [1]

In 1907 Mary De Garis became the second Victorian woman to receive a Medical Doctorate from the University of Melbourne. After briefly practicing in remote Queensland she went abroad to study in Europe, the UK, and the USA.

After her return to Australia, the outbreak of World War One saw De Garis rejected as an Australian Army medico because at that time only nurses could enlist.

Following her soldier fiancé to Europe De Garis eventually found her way into frontline service. Sadly her fiance was killed in the war. Joining the Scottish Women’s Hospital, she became Chief Medical Officer of a 200-bed tent hospital in Macedonia. In Macedonia she survived bombings, extreme cold, and epidemics.

Her indefatigable leadership impulses and urges to address alarming maternal and infant death statistics continued in post-war Victoria.

Working in the 1920s at Geelong Hospital, De Garis established the hospital’s first maternity, antenatal and postnatal wards. She continued redefining standards of care for mothers and their babies through researching, publishing, and presenting internationally until the 1950s. Mary’s story has been largely unknown until recently.

Mary’s war service was not officially recognised, as women were not eligable to enlist in the Australian armed forces as doctors when World War I broke out.

What Courage Such a Thing Takes: The Life of Mary De Garis a short film was created in 2019 in the hope that it would help to make Mary’s extraordinary life better known.


This Biography has been written in consultation with the Family of Mary De Garis


Photo: Portrait – Mary Clementina De Garis

Film:  What Courage Such a Thing Takes: The Life of Mary De Garis, 2019

By historian Dr Ruth Lee and Her Place Women’s Museum supported by the Victorian Government and the Victorian Veteran Council.

Site: Geelong Cemeteries Trust

[1] De Garis, M, (1916) private papers, Letter to Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Edinburgh.