Constance Stone

Emma Constance Stone (1856-1902), medical officer and feminist, was born on 4 December 1856 at Hobart, Tasmania, the oldest child of English parents Betsey (born Haydon) and William Stone, organ builder. She was educated at home. The family moved to St Kilda, Melbourne, about 1875 where she ran a small family school until 1884, when she left for the United States to study medicine. (Women had been admitted to the University of Melbourne since 1880, but were excluded from medicine because the subject matter was considered inappropriate for mixed classes.) Stone graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania and, to ensure registration in Australia, obtained an MD from the University of Trinity College, Toronto, Canada, and the Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, London. While in London she worked at the New Hospital for Women and Children, founded by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, which was officered only by women.

In February 1890 Dr Constance Stone became the first woman to be registered with the Medical Board of Victoria and opened practice in Collins St. She worked mainly with women and children, especially at the Collingwood Free Medical Mission where large numbers attended her weekly clinic. In 1892 she was joined by her sister Grace Clara Stone (1860-1957) who had been among the first women to enter the Melbourne Medical School in 1887, graduating in 1891. She was also assisted by her cousin Dr Emily Mary Page Stone (1865-1910).

Stone's major achievement was the foundation of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. In September 1896 her husband, David Egryn Jones MD, a minister at the Welsh Church in Latrobe St, secured the use of the church hall as an outpatients dispensary on three mornings a week. Most of the women doctors in Melbourne agreed to join Stone in starting a hospital officered only by women which gave poor women the opportunity to be treated by their own sex, free from the ordeal of examination in front of male medical students. It was an immediate success and a committee, headed by suffrage leader Annette Bear-Crawford (q.v.), was appointed to run the hospital and secure permanent premises with inpatient facilities. A shilling fund was supported by women throughout Victoria and in July 1899 the hospital was officially opened. Stone and Crawford worked hard to establish the hospital but unfortunately, just before it opened, Crawford died suddenly and Stone began the sick leave that ended in her death from tuberculosis on 29 December 1902.

Dr Stone's achievement's are impressive for such a short career. By her low-key and quiet manner, along with her impressive qualifications and overseas experience, she helped pave the way for medical women in Melbourne. In 1895 she founded the Victorian Medical Women's Society. She was involved in suffrage work, particularly in the Victorian Women's Franchise League and the United Council for Women's Suffrage; was elected to the committees of the Australian Health Society and the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum; and was associated with a number of social reform organisations including the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Young Women's Christian Association. She was one of the few medical pioneers to marry and her daughter, Bronwen, also became a doctor. Constance Stone succeeded in her aim of doing 'useful work in the world'.

Monika Wells

M. Hutton Neve This Mad Folly!': The History of Australia's Pioneer Women Doctors 1980.