My third cousin four times removed, who was also the sister-in law of my third great uncle, was Dr Lilian Helen Alexander (1861-1934), one of the first woman doctors in Australia.

Lilian was the second of three children of Thomas Alexander (c. 1820-1888) and Jane Alexander nee Furnell (1818-1908). Their oldest daughter was Constance (1858-1913) and they also had a son, Albert Durer Alexander (1863-1933).

 

Cudmore Alexander tree

Family tree showing the Alexander and Cudmore cousin connection

 

The Alexanders lived in South Yarra. Thomas was employed as a printer for the Government but lost his job in the Victorian Government political crisis of January 1878. In 1878 and 1879 he operated a bookselling business. From 1873 Jane, Mrs Alexander, ran a Ladies’ College, which took boarders, called “Lawn House”. This began at William Street, South Yarra. From 1879 the school advertised that the principals were Mrs Alexander and the Misses Alexander: Lilian and Constance were teaching too. In 1883 the school moved from William Street – Lawn House was required by the railway – to Springfield House, 13 Murphy Street, South Yarra, later renumbered to 17.

Lilian was educated at her mother’s school and then for one year at Presbyterian Ladies’ College. In 1883 she entered the University of Melbourne as one of a small group of women who studied Arts. She was the first woman student of Trinity College. She gained her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1886 and her Master of Arts in 1888. The 1887 advertisement for the school proudly announced her achievements.

 

Springfield College January 1887

Advertising (1887, January 29). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11588121

 

In 1887 Lilian applied to study medicine and was one of the first women medical students at Melbourne. She obtained her Bachelor of Medicine in 1893 and her BCh (Baccalaureus Chirurgiae or Bachelor of Surgery)  in 1901.

 

Women-Medical-Students 1887

First group of female medical students at the University of Melbourne, 1887. Description: Standing (l. to r.) Helen Sexton, Lilian Alexander, Annie (or Elizabeth) O’Hara. Seated (l. to r.) Clara Stone, Margaret Whyte, Grace Vale, Elizabeth (or Annie) O’Hara. Retrieved from https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/librarycollections/2011/07/12/237/

 

In 1895 Lilian was inaugural secretary of the Victorian Women’s Medical Association, and later its president. Her first appointment was at the Women’s Hospital in Carlton, and she was one of the inaugural staff members of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children, which was established in 1897.

In 1891 Lilian’s sister Constance (1858-1913) married their third cousin Milo Robert Cudmore (1852-1913). Milo was the brother of my great great grandfather James Francis Cudmore (1837-1912).

Milo and Constance had four sons:

  • Francis Alexander Cudmore 1892–1956
  • Ernest Osmond Cudmore 1894–1924
  • Arthur Sexton Cudmore 1897–1974
  • Wilfred Milo Cudmore 1899–1965

In January 1913 Constance Cudmore died at the Alexander family home in Murphy Street, South Yarra. In July, six months later, Milo also died at South Yarra. Lilian, still living at 17 Murphy Street South Yarra, assumed the care of  the four orphans,  then aged between 14 and 21.

Lilian practiced medicine until 1928. She died on 18 October 1934.

Alexander Lilian obituary Argus 1934 10 20

OBITUARY (1934, October 20). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 24. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10983054

 

In April 1936 Arthur Sexton Cudmore and his two surviving brothers, Francis Alexander Cudmore and Wilfred Milo Cudmore  presented a bas relief sculpture by the notable Australian sculptor Web Gilbert to the University of Melbourne in honour of their aunt Dr Lilian Helen Alexander.

Wheel of Life at Melbourne Uni

The sculpture “Wheel of Life” by Web Gilbert in the foyer of the Medical Building Grattan Street, University of Melbourne.

Alexander memorial plaque

 

Sources

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