Woman Gullett, Lucy Edith

Medical Practitioner and Philanthropist

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Lucy Gullett was born in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn in 1876, the third daughter of journalist, Henry Gullett and his wife, Lucy. Educated at Sydney Girls High School and the University of Sydney, she graduated in 1901 and was appointed the first resident medical officer at the Women's Hospital in Crown Street. Access to an independent income freed her to pursue her wider interests rather than concentrate on building a career. She chose to use her medical skills in a range of activities in the public good, including in a Red Cross hospital in France during World War I.

In 1921 Gullett founded the New South Wales Association of Registered Medical Women. Within a year the Association had raised sufficient funds to establish the outpatient clinic that provided the basis for the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children which opened in 1925. Modelled on the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne, the Rachel Forster provided care for women by women. Gullett was vice-president of the Hospital committee from 1932 to 1949, and also led the campaign to establish a convalescent home in 1946. Her collaborators credited her 'wisdom and unfailing cheerfulness ... her gift for words, her kindness and her unreasonable optimism' in the face of 'debit balances ... and intransigent officialdom' for bringing these institutions into existence (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 November 1949).

Gullett also had interests in the wider political sphere, but failed in her attempt to enter state politics as an Independent in 1932. Describing herself as a feminist, she argued that 'women had singularly failed to take their place in Australian politics ... [although] as legislators for those of their own sex and for children they could fill a useful place' (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 September 1931). 'Women', she believed, 'allowed an inferiority complex in relation to men to govern their ideas ... [regarding] themselves as chattels, to do what men told them' (Singleton Argus, 24 March 1933). However, she was also a supporter of housecraft education and offered her Kirribilli property to the committee working to establish the college (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1935). Elected to the committee of the United Associations of Women in 1935, she was vice-president from 1936-8 and in 1943. She used her medical knowledge to inform UAW policies, for example, advocating early marriage as protection against venereal disease and early divorce where one of the parties was found to be infected (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 1943).

Gullett, who never married, died in 1949. She was remembered in the Lucy Gullett Convalescent Home, the institution which she had helped found three years earlier.

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