Vera Scantlebury Brown

Vera Scantlebury Brown (1889-1946), doctor, was born on 7 August 1889 to Dr G. J. Scantlebury and his independent-minded wife, Catherine (born Baynes). A strong supporter of education for girls, Mrs Scantlebury sent Vera to Toorak College, a small private school, where she did well in science. With her mother's encouragement, she then studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1913 and doing her residency at Children's Hospital, Melbourne.

In 1919 Vera went to London and undertook wartime medical duties at the Endell St military hospital. She worked with Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and met other suffragists but did not particularly identify with their cause. She had no clear ideas about her future career when she returned to Melbourne in 1919. Although hoping to go into private practice, she accepted several short term appointments, including appointments to the Women's and the Children's Hospitals. Feeling somewhat gloomy about her prospects in competition with male doctors returned from the war, she accepted the position of medical officer to the recently formed Victorian Baby Health Centres Association. She thus became involved in a lively and expanding movement and was soon lecturing to trainee mothercraft and infant welfare nurses. She also practised privately and was medical officer to the Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria and Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School.

Her interest in and commitment to the cause of infant and maternal health escalated on a study tour to New Zealand, Canada and the United States in 1924. After her return, the Victorian government asked her, along with Henrietta Main, an English doctor, to prepare a report comparing infant welfare in Victoria with that in New Zealand, where there was a system of state supported clinics. The 1926 report provided the foundation for increased involvement by the state in maternal and child welfare. It recommended establishing a position of Director of Infant Welfare and argued that, although mortality rates had declined, many improvements could be made with better trained staff and a well- supervised system of clinics.

Dr Vera, as she became widely known, had successfully completed the degree of doctor of medicine, specialising in children's diseases, in 1924. She accepted the new position of Director of Infant Welfare, but was only appointed half-time as she had recently married (in September 1926) Edward Brown, Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne. During the next few years Dr Vera worked strenuously to bring together rival factions in the infant welfare movement and to standardise training and procedures in the clinics. In particular, she went to great lengths to prepare a manual on artificial feeding, spending hours testing formulas and measuring implements. This was part of a major effort to make infant feeding - and child care in general - more 'scientific'.

In 1928 Dr Vera became a mother herself when her son Edward was born. Her daughter Catherine was born in 1931. Vera combined her busy professional life with her role as wife and mother in her own way - often somewhat haphazardly. However, even with the support of domestic staff, family and friends, she often felt exhausted by her dual role. Her interests broadened as maternal welfare and later preschools were added to her Department and she assisted in the development and launching of 'Kindergarten of the Air' in 1944. In 1938 she was awarded an OBE for her work. Although often in poor health, she continued to work hard until her final illness and death on 14 July 1945. She was one of the most significant figures in the infant and maternal health movement in Australia in the inter-war years. The organisation of a well developed system of infant welfare clinics throughout Victoria reflected her skills and enthusiasm, and her warmth and care for her staff and for others were as widely acclaimed as her achievements in preventive health care for children.

Kerreen Reiger Double Time edited Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly 1985 ch 31.