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Ground-breaker in the medical world

It was a time when it was rare for an obstetrician and gynaecologist to be a woman, but that was the ground-breaking area Constance Elizabeth D'Arcy found herself in.

Born in 1879 at Rylstone, New South Wales, Constance was the fifth daughter of Murty D'Arcy, a police sergeant and his wife Bridget nee Synnott. She completed her Bachelor of Medicine in 1904, however she immediately came across some hurdles when neither of the teaching hospitals in Sydney would take on a woman.

Constance Elizabeth D'Arcy. Courtesy: Wikipedia

This did not deter her and she moved to South Australia to take up her residency at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Her focus was on working with women to reduce the incidences of maternal death. By 1908 she had opened a practice in Macquarie Street, Sydney and appointed honorary surgeon at the Royal Hospital for Women.

To achieve her goals Constance worked to raise the standards in nursing and underlined the importance of regular antenatal examinations. Her concerns were controlling the cases of septicaemia and the rise in deaths from illegal operations. She condemned moves to legalise abortion.

She was a member of many medical associations including the Australian Trained Nurses' Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, a foundation member of the College of Surgeons of Australasia (Royal Australasian College of Surgeons), and an active member of the Catholic Medical Guild of St Luke. She helped reform the Medical Women's Society of New South Wales, serving as its president from 1933-34.

She was the first woman to be elected on the senate of the University of Sydney. Constance responded quickly to her patients and would be chauffeur driven on her rounds. She was a large build with an infectious laugh but always full of grace. She had a tendency to wear her jewellery and on emergency calls, the sister on duty had to lock it away.

She was appointed as Dame of the Order of the British Empire on 3 June 1935 for Services to the welfare of children. In 1940 the Pope honoured her with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for distinguished service to the Catholic church.

The final resting place in Waverley cemetery of a true heroine in the medical world.

On 25th April, 1950 Constance breathed her last at the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying in Darlinghurst. She was suffering a cerebro-vascular disease. A requiem mass was held at St Mary's Cathedral and she was buried in Waverley cemetery. A ward is named after her at the Royal Hospital for Women.


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