Ethel Osborne

Ethel Elizabeth Osborne (1882-1968), medical practitioner, was born on 30 January 1882, in Leeds, England, second child of Elizabeth (born Lockley) and James Goodson, butcher and businessman. Ethel was educated at Yorkshire College and the University of Leeds (MSc 1907). On 10 December 1903 she married William Alexander Osborne and soon after sailed with him to Melbourne where he had been appointed professor of physiology and histology at the university. They had three daughters and one son.

Ethel was a foundation member of a new women's group, the Catalysts. After investigating the Lyceum Club when in London with her husband in 1910, she became an enthusiastic foundation vice-president of the Melbourne Lyceum Club. She was appointed to the first Council of the College of Domestic Economy (later the Emily McPherson College) in 1912 when new diploma courses were being introduced, becoming president in 1915. A daughter recalled: 'we learnt early to . . . enjoy the intellectual wars over Sunday crumpets'.

Visiting England during the 1914-18 war Ethel was employed by the Ministry of Munitions to investigate industrial fatigue. She published Industrial Hygiene as applied to Munition Workers (1921) and with H. M. Vernon Two Contributions to the Study of Accident Causation (1922). On returning to Melbourne in 1919 she was invited by the Victorian Government to investigate industrial fatigue in the engineering trades, and she gave evidence to the federal arbitration court on conditions of employment for women in the clothing industry; she advised an unbroken spell of four hours should be the maximum allowed. Her evidence on the stressful conditions in which women worked won some workers the 44-hour week.

Ethel Osborne graduated MB BS from the University of Melbourne in 1923 and later completed the Diploma Public Health (1931). She practised at various times at the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children, the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital and privately. She became an acknowledged expert on industrial health, commissioned by the printing trades union in 1924 to report on the health of its women members and appointed to represent Australia at international congresses on industrial accidents and diseases, at Amsterdam (1925), Budapest (1928), and Geneva (1931).

Again president of the College of Domestic Economy (1919-29), Dr Osborne worked hard for improved accommodation (opened in 1927). She visited the United States in 1921 to investigate industrial hygiene, home economics and unionism among women and became involved in the development of the profession of dietetics, collaborating with her husband in the revision of his Primer of Dietetics (first published in 1910). She was invited by St Vincent's Hospital to investigate its dietary department and following investigations overseas helped develop their training school.

In 1928 Dr Osborne represented Australia at the Pan-Pacific Women's Conference in Honolulu, conferring afterwards with the International Labour Organisation. At the second Pan-Pacific Women's Conference (Honolulu, 1930), she was program secretary and liaison officer for the League of Nations and the ILO. With support from the Australian Federation of Women Voters, she was appointed substitute delegate to the League of Nations Assembly in 1931, and again in 1932. In between she stepped into a locum in England which was an opportunity for her to study the operation of national insurance. She returned to Melbourne in 1932 where she continued to write, give lectures and radio talks in the intervals between overseas travel to international congresses.

Following her husband's retirement, the Osbornes lived at Kangaroo Ground. Ethel had always been a careless housekeeper and in later life her eccentricity of behaviour became more marked. She died in an East Melbourne Hospital on 3 December 1968. A fellow member of the Lyceum Club remembered her as a 'brilliantly clever women' who was always 'to the forefront of those who wished to advance the status of women'.

Diane Langmore