Celebrating the life and achievements of Dr Vera Scantlebury-Brown

(L-R) Jill Wheeler- President of the Linton and District Historical Society
Natalie Hitchins- Victorian Minister for Education and Women
Lucy McEarchern- Sculpture Artist
Martha Haylett - Member for Ripon

On Tuesday 18 April 2023, a life-size sculpture of Dr Vera Scantlebury-Brown was unveiled in Linton, just outside Ballarat, under the Victorian government program to redress the absence of women's achievements in public art and commemoration.

The statue depicts a powerful-looking surgeon in her military uniform - the Endell St Military Hospital where she was a military surgeon from 1917-1919.

Vera Scantlebury was born in 1889 in the old gold mining town of Linton and was one of the first women to study medicine at the University of Melbourne. She graduated with an MB BS in 1914.

In November 1914, Vera, a resident at the Melbourne Hospital, applied for a vacancy at the Children's Hospital. Although she had been one of the top six students of her year, the honorary staff ranked her last among the three applicants. However, she applied for the next vacancy in April 1915 and this time, the honorary staff ranked her first - ahead of a male doctor.

Women doctors were not permitted to join the Australian army, so she sailed to England in 1917 and worked until the end of the war at the Endell Street Military Hospital. After the war, she received an honorary appointment at the Queen Victoria Hospital and became a clinical assistant at the Children's Hospital.

Perhaps it was an issue of having to employ women as men were going off to war, but administrators soon realised the presence of women doctors caused little, if any, disruption to the everyday workings of the hospital. However, after the war, with many men returning to work, hospital committees adopted the practice of giving preference to returned servicemen.

Undeterred, Vera followed her passion for child welfare work and helped establish an infant welfare section within the health department of the Victorian Government. Because she was married, she was only a part-time director with public service rules making her ineligible for a full-time position. From 1926 until her death in 1946, Vera worked tirelessly for the cause of infant welfare.

Dr Scantlebury-Brown is the 11th statue erected of a woman in Victoria, while the state has nearly 600 statues of men, horses, and dogs. Across Australia, just four per cent of all statues are of women.

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