Agnes Bennett

Agnes Bennett (1872 – 1960)   medical practitioner, army officer, flying doctor
bennettAgnes Bennett was a committee-member of the (Church of England) District Nursing Association and gave free medical assistance.  She was the first female commissioned officer in the British Army and first woman doctor to take up hospital work in New Zealand. She served in the Royal Flying Doctor Service, North Queensland, 1938-39. Agnes Bennett was awarded an OBE.  

Finding that female scientists were unwanted, Agnes Bennett worked as a teacher and governess, then left Australia in 1895 to study at the College of Medicine for Women, University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.M., 1899). She returned to Sydney in 1901 and set up in private practice in Darlinghurst Road. She soon became a committee-member of the (Church of England) District Nursing Association and gave free medical assistance. Prejudice against female doctors forced her to relinquish her practice, and accept a position on 1 December 1904 as junior medical officer at the Hospital for the Insane, Callan Park. Dissatisfied, in July 1905 she took over the practice of a woman doctor in Wellington, New Zealand, and this time prospered. An outstanding practitioner, she was chief medical officer in 1908-36 at St Helen’s maternity hospital, and honorary physician to the children’s ward of Wellington Hospital from 1910. In 1911 she completed her M.D. at Edinburgh. She was a consistent defender of women’s right to higher education; in 1909 and 1914 she publicly opposed Drs Batchelor and Truby King, who saw higher education as detrimental to women’s maternal functions and hence to the human race.

In 1915 Agnes Bennett became the first female commissioned officer in the British Army, when as a captain she worked as a medical officer in war hospitals in Cairo. In 1916-17 she was in charge of a unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals on the Serbian front. She became the first president of the Wellington branch of the International Federation of University Women in 1923, and represented New Zealand at its world conference at Cracow, Poland, in 1936.

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