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Todd, Kathleen Mary Gertrude

by Bronwyn Labrum


Kathleen Todd believed passionately that the important role of any doctor is ‘sometimes to cure, often to relieve, but always to console’. This dictum came to have a very personal resonance for this gifted, warm and empathetic psychiatrist.

Born on 19 November 1898 in Heriot, Otago, Kathleen Mary Gertrude Todd was one of seven children of Mary Hegarty and her husband, Charles Todd. Charles was an auctioneer, but later founded the firm that became the Todd Motor Company. Kathleen attended St Dominic’s College in Dunedin and completed a medical degree at the University of Otago in 1923. In common with other early woman doctors who faced prejudice because of their sex, Kathleen found it difficult to obtain a house surgeon’s appointment. After several stints as a general practitioner’s locum she sailed for Europe, travelling to Vienna, the mecca for postgraduate medical students at this time, and visiting London hospitals. She decided to specialise in psychological medicine, and child psychiatry in particular, so undertook further study in Boston and Oakland, California, where this field was being rapidly developed. She returned to London to take her diploma in psychiatric medicine (DPM).

After returning home, for five years Todd headed the psychological clinic at the Auckland Mental Hospital at Avondale. In 1935, feeling that she needed more knowledge and experience, she travelled again to London to study at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases, and at the Tavistock Clinic, both leading centres of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Todd increasingly worked in child guidance clinics, where multi-disciplinary teams of specialists diagnosed and treated children who had mild emotional and behavioural problems, and also their parents.

Todd was appointed assistant director of the child guidance department at West End Hospital and became a staff member at the Tavistock Clinic and at the psychological clinic at Hill End Hospital. In 1941 she became director of the London Child Guidance Clinic and Training Centre. She wrote the influential Child treatment and the therapy of play with Lydia Jackson. Published in 1946, it was aimed at professionals and parents and became a best seller. In 1947 she contributed a section on the child guidance clinic to the practitioner handbook Child health and development .

Todd also conducted a private practice in Harley Street. She lived with her sister Moyra, her life’s companion, in Hampstead; New Zealand doctors studying or practising in England were often entertained there. In 1943 Kathleen was diagnosed with breast cancer and when she returned to New Zealand for a holiday three years later, decided not to return to London. From 1949 to 1963 she ran a private practice from her home in Melling, Lower Hutt, but was able to continue her involvement with wider professional issues. She used her considerable means to establish a fund to provide fellowships for young psychiatrists to engage in postgraduate study in Europe. This grew from her firm belief that psychiatrists, more than other medical specialists, needed the broad cultural background they could acquire in Europe. However, she stipulated that recipients return to New Zealand to practise.

Todd also developed an active interest in the convalescent home at Qui Nhon, South Vietnam, which had been established by the London branch of the Save the Children Fund adjacent to the New Zealand surgical unit. With her sister she made a large grant to her local branch of the fund.

Her personal interests included photography and gardening, which combined in her photographs of flowers. She was a member of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association, the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust, and the New Zealand Camellia Society. Kathleen Todd read widely and was also interested in graphic arts and music. Entertaining guests with her sister, which had been a feature of London life, continued at Melling where she was known for her ‘gentle but strong support, her great sense of fun and enjoyment in life, and the quiet hospitality of their lovely home’.

In 1963 Kathleen Todd underwent surgery, and all forms of outside activity were curtailed. Cared for by her two sisters in her last years, she died at home on 21 March 1968.

Links and sources


    Obit. New Zealand Medical Journal 68, No 436 (Sept. 1968): 191–193

How to cite this page:

Bronwyn Labrum. 'Todd, Kathleen Mary Gertrude', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)