Sunday History Photo / Person

Submitted: Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 04:33
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Helen Mary Mayo was born in Adelaide, on 1 October 1878.
She was the eldest of the seven children of George Gibbes Mayo, a civil engineer, and Henrietta Mary Mayo, Her formal education commenced at the age of 10, when she began receiving regular lessons with a tutor. At the age of 16, she was enrolled in the Advanced School for Girls on Grote Street (the forerunner of the Adelaide High School), from which she matriculated after one year, at the end of 1895.
Despite never having heard of female doctors, from an early age she had been set on pursuing a career in medicine. However, Edward Rennie, then a professor at the University of Adelaide advised Helen's father that she was too young to commence study in Medicine, so in 1896, Helen enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide.

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The death of her younger sister Olive at the end of her first year of study meant that she was unable to sit her final exams for that year, and when she repeated her first year in 1897, she failed two of her five subjects (Latin and Greek). Having gained her father's permission, Helen enrolled in medicine in 1898. She was a distinguished medicine student, coming top of her class and winning the Davis Thomas scholarship and the Everard Scholarship in her fourth and fifth years of study, respectively.

In the early part of the 1910s, there was an urgent need for medical facilities to treat infants in South Australia since, due to the risks of cross-infection, the Adelaide Children's Hospital would not treat those under the age of two. In 1913, Mayo and Stirling called a meeting of medical practitioners to discuss the prospect of a hospital for these children. After doubts about the practicality of such a plan were expressed, the group raised some funds and presented to the board of the Adelaide Children's Hospital a plan to use the funds to build a separate ward on the grounds of the hospital. The board rejected the proposal, so Helen and her group rented a two-story house in St. Peter's and opened a hospital for infants in 1914. Financial difficulties for the hospital eventually became overwhelming and the state government took over the hospital, moving it to Woodville and renaming it the Mareeba Hospital.

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Helen played a central role in establishing Mareeba Hospital and forming its policy, serving as honourable physician at Mareeba, and as honorary responsible officer from 1921 to 1946. To combat the risks of cross-infection, she instituted a policy of strict isolation of babies from other patients. Each child had their own locker, where their own equipment would be kept, gowns used by nurses to tend to one child would only be used for that child, and blankets, bottles and floors were all sterilised. Mareeba eventually became a 70-bed hospital, complete with a surgical unit and a ward for premature babies.
Helen spent two years working in infant health in England, Ireland and India. She returned to Adelaide in 1906, starting a private practice and taking up positions at the Adelaide Children's Hospital and Adelaide Hospital. In 1909, she co-founded the School for Mothers, where mothers could receive advice on infant health. This organisation, which became the Mothers' and Babies' Health Association in 1927, eventually established branches across South Australia and incorporated a training school for maternal nurses.

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In addition to her medical achievements, Helen Mayo participated in a number of other organisations. She was heavily involved in the University of Adelaide, serving on the university council from 1914 to 1960 (the first woman in Australia to be elected to such a position) and establishing a women's club and boarding college there. She was also the founder of the Adelaide Lyceum Club, an organisation for professional women.Helen Mayo died on 13 November 1967, with the Medical Journal of Australia attributing the success of South Australia's infant welfare system to her efforts.

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Reply By: Member - Toyocrusa (NSW) - Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 06:36

Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 06:36
You've done it again Doug. Another informative SHP. I had not heard of Helen Mayo prior to this so thanks for enlightening us. Bob.

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Reply By: megan z - Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 15:42

Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 15:42
to be honest, i know little about her. i just know that she is a medical doctor.
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Reply By: Member - Dunworkin (WA) - Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 23:43

Sunday, Apr 01, 2012 at 23:43
Very interesting read Doug, I hadn't heard of her, it's amazing what some people did in those days and yet we know very little if anything of them.
Thanks again for your efforts.



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