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Story: Bush, Alice Mary

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Bush, Alice Mary


Doctor, paediatrician, family planning activist

This biography, written by Linda Bryder, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000. It was updated in November, 2001.

Alice Mary Stanton was born in Auckland on 7 August 1914, the second of five children of Marjorie Aileen McMaster and her husband, Joseph Stanton, a solicitor and ultimately a Supreme Court judge. Educated at Hilltop School, Epsom, and Diocesan High School for Girls, she was determined to be a medical practitioner. She entered the University of Otago Medical School in 1933 and completed her MB, ChB in 1937. She excelled in her studies and became involved in student clubs and public debating.

In 1938 Alice Stanton was appointed resident medical officer at Auckland Hospital. Problems accommodating a female resident were temporarily resolved by her boarding at her parents' home. The following year she became senior resident at New Plymouth Hospital. From 1940 to 1944 she acted as locum for an Auckland general practitioner on overseas wartime service, Edward Sayers. She also took up his appointment as visiting physician to the Truby King Karitane Hospital and Mothercraft Home, Auckland, which treated premature and other babies with feeding problems. She later attributed her interest in paediatrics to this work.

Medical politics attracted her attention around this time. She became an active member of the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association (NZBMA), and secretary (1945–46) and then president (1948, 1953) of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Medical Women’s Association. An Auckland surgeon, Douglas Robb, who was concerned about the future of New Zealand’s medical services under the Social Security Act 1938, formed a small medical study group and Alice was invited to join in 1940. In 1943 the group published a booklet, A national health service , arguing for a reorganisation of health services.

On 17 August 1940, at Auckland, Alice Stanton married a schoolteacher, William Arthur Faulkner Bush (known as Faulkner). He departed on overseas service in 1943, and during his absence their first child died accidentally. Sayers returned in 1944 and Bush entered into a three-year partnership with him. From him she developed an interest in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies and asthma. She secured a position as assistant visiting physician to the Auckland Hospital children’s wards in the same year and commenced study for membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. In 1946 she gained membership of the college, and in 1955 became a fellow – the first New Zealand woman to do so.

Faulkner returned from overseas in 1946. The following year, Alice, Faulkner and a newborn son departed for Britain. In London, Alice worked at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, where she acquired a diploma in child health. She also gained membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London. (In 1970 she was to be elected a fellow of the college, the first New Zealand woman to achieve that distinction.)

Back in Auckland by 1950, now with two children, Alice set up a thriving private paediatric practice. She was appointed senior visiting children’s physician at Auckland Hospital, was on the staff of the Department of Health's child health clinic, Marinoto, and continued to act as visiting physician to Karitane Hospital. From 1950 she taught infant care to sixth-year medical students at an Auckland Plunket clinic.

Alice Bush was an important figure in the development of paediatrics in New Zealand. She was a founder member of the Paediatric Society of New Zealand in 1947 and later an officeholder. With her fellow paediatricians she worked towards improving child health services and promoted an independent children’s hospital for Auckland. She was renowned for showing great tenderness and compassion for her patients.

The area for which Bush is best remembered is family planning. An early member of the New Zealand Family Planning Association (NZFPA), Alice worked to gain women better access to birth control information. During the Second World War she lectured on sex education and sexually transmitted diseases (but not contraception) at the YWCA in Auckland, and in 1944 published a booklet on the subject, Personal relationships , of which the Health Department subsequently had 20,000 copies printed. From 1943 until 1947 she served on the national executive of the NZFPA, at a time when the NZBMA refused to recognise it or to allow its members to work in its clinics. In 1960 she became chair and convener of the NZFPA’s medical advisory committee and the association’s president.

She was instrumental in gaining the Medical Association’s approval for doctors to work in NZFPA clinics in 1961 and played a major part in the expansion of the services in the 1960s. The Otara Maori Committee of south Auckland made her an honorary tohunga for the help she gave Maori and Polynesian women in family planning. She became involved with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, attending conferences and representing New Zealand on the South East Asia and Oceania Regional Council. She also supported the Family Guidance Centre.

Bush’s public profile rose considerably during the 1960s as a result of her work in family planning. She was outspoken, making her views known through public meetings and the press. She believed that medical women had an important role to play in promoting the health of women and children. As a member of the Zonta Club of Auckland, a service club for business and professional women, she was a prime mover in compiling its many submissions to commissions of inquiry. She also represented the NZFPA at national meetings of the National Council of Women of New Zealand.

Alice Bush backed family planning not because she wished to reduce the birth rate or promote social or sexual permissiveness, but to support the social structure of the family. She believed that planned families were happier and more stable, and her own family was very important to her. Her declared ‘hobbies’ were her work for the Auckland Play Centres Association and the Auckland Parents’ Centre, and her vice-presidency of the New Zealand Speech Therapists’ Association. In 1970 she helped found the Auckland Asthma Society.

In 1973 she had a heart attack, but within a short time was back at work. A colleague wrote of her, ‘It was characteristic that for months she had anginal pain, but kept this knowledge to herself and refused to allow it to interfere with her work. The day before her death she finished her rounds at the Karitane Hospital, returned home to settle some immediate matters – and only then had time to admit that she was ill’. She died on 12 February 1974, at Auckland Hospital, at the age of 59. She was survived by her husband, Faulkner, a son and a daughter. Memorials to her include the Alice Bush Family Planning Clinic in Auckland, the Alice Bush Memorial Fund, and the Alice Bush Memorial Prize for excellence in paediatrics.

How to cite this page:

Linda Bryder. 'Bush, Alice Mary', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000, updated November, 2001. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5b55/bush-alice-mary (accessed 22 May 2024)