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Story: Scott, Jessie Ann

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Scott, Jessie Ann


Doctor, medical officer, prisoner of war

This biography, written by Fiona Ward, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Jessie Ann Scott was born on 9 August 1883 at Brookside, Canterbury, New Zealand. She was the youngest of the nine children of Mary Armit and her husband, David Scott, a farmer. After attending Christchurch Girls' High School, Jessie Scott studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She was dismayed by the lack of facilities for women, and felt her presence barely tolerated, experiencing animosity from male colleagues and teaching staff. She became active in the women's suffrage movement at about this time.

Scott graduated MB and ChB in 1909, then became resident medical officer at the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children. After about eight months she resigned, moving to London in 1910 to join the London County Council as assistant medical officer, a position she held until 1913. Scott found this work varied and interesting, and the part-time nature of the appointment enabled her to study for the diploma in public health, which she completed during this period. She graduated MD from Edinburgh University in 1912.

By May 1913 Jessie Scott had returned to New Zealand, and was in practice in Auckland. During the smallpox epidemic of that year, Scott, with the aid of three nursing staff, was in charge of a large temporary isolation hospital.

On the outbreak of the First World War Jessie Scott was approached by her friend Ettie Rout, of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood, to lead the first band of volunteers to help nurse the sick and wounded of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt. After initially accepting this offer Scott declined, choosing instead to join the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service. Elsie Inglis, an early woman medical graduate of Edinburgh University, had established the hospitals, with the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies providing the funding because the British government rejected the services of women doctors.

Jessie Scott served in the second Scottish Women's Hospitals unit in Serbia from late 1915. When the German and Austrian armies began their invasion, the hospital units were gradually driven south with the Serbian army to Kruševac, where Scott's unit was eventually captured by Austrian forces. In February 1916 she and other members of her unit were taken under guard to Vienna and later to Switzerland, where they were released and allowed to return to England.

At the end of August 1916 Jessie Scott went with her unit to the Russian front in Romania, where they were attached to the First Serbian Division fighting in the Dobrudja (Dobroge). They were forced to retreat to Russia along with the armies and Romanian refugees in exhausting and hazardous conditions. Scott continued as a medical officer with the Serbian army until 1918. In 1919 she was attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonika, and also served in France with the corps. For her work with the Serbian army she was awarded the Order of St Sava, third class, by the Serbian government. Returning to England in 1920, Scott again worked as a medical officer for the London County Council until 1922, and completed further post-graduate studies in diseases of women and children.

In 1924 Scott returned to Christchurch to work as an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Christchurch Hospital. Frustrated by what she perceived as the continual obstruction of her authority by male colleagues, she soon resigned and went into private practice. She was honorary gynaecologist to the hospital for 10 years.

For many years Jessie Scott served the Canterbury and West Coast District of the St John Ambulance Brigade as lady district superintendent. In what spare time she had she enjoyed nature study and painting, and encouraged and assisted volunteer workers in the paramedical services. A member of many womens' organisations, she was at one time president of the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Federation of University Women, and was a member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand. During the Second World War she was deputy chairwoman of the Women's War Service Auxiliary.

In May 1958 Scott travelled to England for a reunion with some of her colleagues from the Scottish Women's Hospitals. She was also one of the two New Zealand representatives to the International Congress of Medical Women, held in London at Bedford College in July. In retirement she retained a lively interest in developments in medicine, especially the treatment of women and children, and visited modern hospitals in several countries.

Jessie Scott died at Christchurch on 15 August 1959. She had never married. For most of her professional working life she had had to contend with the prejudices of male colleagues. A reserved woman, with a great sense of humour, her achievements show her also to have been strong-willed, independent and resourceful.

How to cite this page:

Fiona Ward. 'Scott, Jessie Ann', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3s7/scott-jessie-ann (accessed 14 June 2024)