Constance Ellis

Constance Ellis (1872-1942), doctor, was born on 2 November l872 at Carlton, Melbourne, sixth child of Lydia Constance (born Phillips) and Louis Ellis, deputy sheriff, both of Jewish faith. She was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College and the University of Melbourne where she studied medicine, graduating in 1899. She was a member of Janet Clarke (q.v.) Hall from 1896-98. After a residentship at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital she spent a further two years at the (Royal) Children's Hospital, and established a general and obstetric practice. In 1903 she qualified MD from the University of Melbourne. Dr Ellis joined the honorary staff of the Queen Victoria Hospital and was appointed demonstrator and lecturer in pathology at the University of Melbourne.

From the formation of a Victorian National Council of Women in 1902, Constance was an active member of its health committee. In 1910 she joined a women's group which met to discuss intellectual and cultural subjects, calling itself at her suggestion the Catalysts. She became a member of the Lyceum Club when it was formed in 1912 and later with Nell Martyn (q.v.) she founded the Business and Professional Women's Association (1925). At Queen Victoria Hospital she organised its pathology department, and was honorary pathologist from 1908-19. With Georgina Sweet (q.v.) she campaigned for sex education, giving talks and creating material to put in the hands of parents. Their approach was scientific rather than moralistic with the emphasis on psychology. They believed parents should be educated to encourage greater openness about sex and to respond frankly when children asked questions. In the 1920s Ellis became president of the Medical Women's Society and a committee member of the Australian Association for Fighting Venereal Diseases. She was also a council member of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association.

The health and care of infants was another major interest. Dr Ellis was one of the three women who reported in 1921 to the Victorian National Council of Women on the operation of the Commonwealth maternity allowances scheme, which they found 'wasteful'. Their recommendation was for the equivalent money to be spent on centres with a maternity hospital, an ante-natal clinic, clinics for babies and children and a milk depot under district nursing staff, in one institution. She was a council member of the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association from its inception, and a long serving vice-president. Here also it was the parent (or the future parent) whom she addressed. She went often to girls' schools, spoke frequently to women's groups and was closely involved in the training of domestic science teachers through her association with the College of Domestic Economy (later the Emily McPherson College). She was a member of its council from 1911 to within a few months of her death and council president from 1932-34.

Constance Ellis never married. She was an accomplished violinist and owned a large collection of books and pictures, which she left to Janet Clarke Hall and the University Women's College. She died from Paget's disease on 10 September 1942.

Heather Radi