Gertrude Halley

Ida Gertrude Margaret Halley (1867-1939), medical officer, was born on 1 August l867 at Ballarat, Victoria, daughter of Margaret Halley (born Fletcher) and Rev. Jacob John Halley. Educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, she was among the first women medical students at the University of Melbourne (MB BS 1896). She practised with Dr Kent Hughes in Melbourne and was a founder and treasurer of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women. She became honorary surgeon there and an eye and ear specialist after research in London and Shanghai.

In 1906 Halley was appointed to assist the chief health officer in Tasmania as medical inspector of schools. With Dr Hogg of Launceston she devised an eye test for children which was adopted throughout Australia and in other parts of the Empire. In 1910 she moved to Sydney to a similar appointment and also gave lectures at the Teachers' Training College. In 1913 she was chosen to establish the long-awaited medical branch of the Education Department in South Australia. Accompanied initially by one school nurse, she began the examination of 50,000 children at the rate of 100 a day. She made extensive use of meetings of parents since, like her close friend and colleague Lydia Longmore, inspector of infant schools, she believed that educating mothers and fathers was one of the best means of improving children's health. They pioneered the use of intelligence tests in South Australian schools and promoted the separate and skilled teaching of mentally retarded children. Halley supported the playgrounds movement, as vice-chairman of the playgrounds section of the Town Planning Exhibition, Adelaide, and Education Department representative on the playground committee of the Town Planning Association. She did significant work in trachoma prevention. By 1925 she headed a staff of sixteen, including three dentists, five medical assistants, three nurses and a psychologist, Dr Constance Davey (q.v.). The press commented that she 'had been fighting against heavy odds with skill, enthusiasm and courage' to get her 'forward' policies accepted. She retired in 1931.

She was prominent in the Women's Non-Party Political Association (later League of Women Voters) and was chairwoman of the League of Loyal Women, 1916-22. When the National Council of Women was reformed in South Australia in l920 she became a committee member (1920-30) and was convenor of its standing committee on public health from 1927-29. The commitments reflected her endorsement of contemporary feminists' contention that women could contribute much to the wider society; they also related to her religious beliefs. Raised in a Congregational manse, she was encouraged to develop a concern for reform. She was an active member of the Clayton Church and the Congregational Church Women's Society of South Australia. She also displayed some skill as an artist in ceramics.

After a period of ill heath, Gertrude Halley died at her home at Maylands on 1 October 1939. She is remembered as the donor of an annual prize to perpetuate the memory of John Christie Wright, former principal of the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts, who had died in 1917 in the war in France. A portrait by her friend Marie Tuck is held by the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, Melbourne.

Elizabeth Kwan

C.M.Davey Children and their Law-makers l956.