“For women, by women” 

The Queen Victoria Hospital building in Little Lonsdale St in 1897.

The Queen Victoria Hospital building in Little Lonsdale St in 1897.

By David Thompson

The Queen Victoria Hospital opened its doors in 1899 in Little Lonsdale St, near William St. 

This was Melbourne’s first hospital for women and children to be staffed by female doctors, and was only the third such hospital in the world.

The idea for the hospital came from Constance Stone who was born in Hobart in 1856 and moved to Melbourne in 1872. 

She wanted to be a doctor but at that time the University of Melbourne did not accept female medical students so in 1884 Constance went overseas to study. 

In 1887 she graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania to become Australia’s first qualified female doctor. 

Following further study at the University of Trinity College in Toronto, she went to London and worked at the New Hospital for Women. In 1890 she returned to Melbourne to practice in Collins St and work at the Free Medical Mission in Collingwood.

While Constance was overseas, Melbourne University began to admit and graduate women doctors. In 1896, Constance and a group of these recent graduates formed the Women’s Medical Society. 

Based on Constance’s experiences in London and in Collingwood, the group saw a need for a hospital for women and children staffed by women doctors. And so began the first hospital “for women, by women” in Melbourne.

The hospital began as an outpatients’ clinic, known as the Victoria Hospital, held on three days a week in St David’s Hall behind the Welsh Church in Latrobe St, where Constance’s husband was the pastor. 

The clinic was a resounding success, attracting 2000 patients in its first three months. 

In 1897 the women doctors decided to buy their own building. They launched the Queens Shilling Fund, to which every woman in Victoria was asked to contribute one shilling. 

Over £3000 was raised, enough to purchase the former Governess’ Institute in Mint Place in Little Lonsdale St between Queen and William streets. 

Following renovations, and fitted out with beds, an operating theatre and Melbourne’s first ante-natal clinic, the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children was opened on July 5, 1899 by Lady Brassey, wife of the Governor of Victoria. 

The first out-patients were received a week later and the first in-patients by the end of the month.

The hospital was an immediate success but Constance did not have long to enjoy her achievement. Already ill at the time of the opening, she died of tuberculosis on December 29, 1902.

The Queen Victoria Hospital attracted strong support from patients, former patients and their families, often in the form of gifts of vegetables, eggs and other foodstuffs. 

The Hospital’s Annual Report for 1921 tells of a little boy who grew poppies and sold them for a penny per bunch. He sold 210 bunches and gave £1 to the hospital. 

“The pleasure of giving and the appreciation of his gift stimulated him to further effort, and with the help of friends he organised a small bazaar, which resulted in a cheque for £40 being received by the hospital.” 

The hospital continued to expand and by the 1930s had a frontage on William St. Among later additions were the Jessie McPherson Community Hospital (1931) and the Mabel Brookes wing (1934).

In 1946, the “Queen Vic” took over the Royal Melbourne Hospital buildings in Lonsdale St. In 1965 it became a teaching hospital for Monash University and also became a family hospital, both treating and employing males. 

In 1977 it became part of the Queen Victoria Medical Centre. Finally, in 1989 the hospital moved to Clayton as part of the Monash Medical Centre. The site in Lonsdale St was developed as the QV Melbourne shopping complex. One block of the former hospital is retained as the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre. 

The former Queen Vic buildings in Little Lonsdale St were used for a time by the Peter McCallum Hospital, and today the site is occupied by law courts. 

Constance Stone is commemorated by a plaque on the Welsh Church in LaTrobe St and by the naming of Constance Stone Lane in the QV complex.

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