Kate Campbell

Kate Isabel Campbell (1899-1986), paediatrician, was born at Hawthorn, Melbourne, only daughter and third of four children of Janet Duncan (born Mill), schoolteacher, and Donald Campbell, shipping clerk. Kate was educated at the primary school in Hawthorn and proceeded to the Methodist Ladies' College on a scholarship. Her parents, of Scottish extraction, were keen to see her gain a good education, and her mother particularly ambitious that she have entry to an independent livelihood. With this support she entered the medical faculty at the University of Melbourne in 1917, with a scholarship to Janet Clarke Hall. Her class consisted of 160 men and 26 women, the latter a higher proportion than usual owing to the number of men absent at the war. She graduated MB BS in 1922.

Kate Campbell turned her attention to the health problems of babies and young children. The Royal Children's Hospital resisted her application for residency, since it was unwilling to take on female doctors, but was eventually pressed by others into appointing her. Kate's experience there, and at the Royal Women's Hospital as resident medical officer till 1927, gave her valuable initial experience in what was to become her chosen field. Together with Vera Scantlebury (Brown q.v.) Kate studied for a doctorate in medicine, concentrating again on young children, and graduated MD in 1924.

While sustaining a general medical practice in Essendon for ten years, Kate Campbell worked hard to build up experience and expertise in the treatment of children. With the Infant Welfare movement in its early stages in Victoria in the 1920s, the ideas of such pioneering doctors as Kate Campbell were crucial. She was appointed to the position of medical officer for the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association, a post she held for over 40 years. She also lectured nurses in the area. Her ideas prevented the rigidity of Truby King methods from prevailing in Victoria. While formal examinations for paediatrics had not yet been instituted, Kate's rising importance in the field was recognised when she was appointed inaugural lecturer in neo-natal paediatrics at the University of Melbourne in 1929, a post she held until 1965.

From 1937 Kate Campbell was in private practice as a Collins St specialist in paediatrics. She became renowned nationwide within a short time. Her diagnostic skills were brilliant and she was frequently consulted by other specialists over difficult cases. As one admiring colleague said of her, she was the 'doyen' of the field. With Vera Scantlebury Brown and A. Elizabeth Wilmot she wrote the Department of Health's Guide to the Care of the Young Child which ran to six editions between 1947 and 1972. Always her practical work was sustained by research, by her willingness to learn and observe ways to expand knowledge. In 1951 this capacity resulted in a highly significant finding on the cause of retrolental fibroplasia, a disease which causes blindness in premature babies. The publication of her study in the Medical Journal of Australia brought her international recognition and respect.

She shared the first Encyclopaedia Britannica award for medicine in 1964, was awarded an honorary LLD (Melb.) in 1966 and the DBE in 1971, for her services to Australian medicine. She valued highly her part in introducing in 1947 unrestricted visiting in children's hospitals; in her eighties, she listed her special interests as 'the newborn infant, child welfare, the status of women'. Kate Campbell died on 12 July 1986, mourned not only by medical colleagues but by the thousands of grateful parents indebted to her for her outstanding dedication to children's health care.

Patricia Grimshaw

The Half Open Door edited by by Patricia Grimshaw and Lynne Strahan 1982 ch 8.