Daphne Phyllis Adams (nee Morrison)

This biography was written by Daphne Adams nee Morrison’s children: Margie Adams, John Adams, & Jenny Schurer

Daphne Adams (nee Morrison), graduated 1944

Daphne Phyllis Morrison was born on 20th April 1921 in Tapanui, a small town in West Otago. She was the second daughter of James and Ivy Morrison, two years younger than her sister Marian. James and Ivy were New Zealand-born descendants of staunch Presbyterian Scottish immigrants who had settled in the surrounding farming area. They were bought up within the Presbyterian Church with the philosophy of service to family, society, and education for all.

Daphne’s early life was on a dairy farm. She describes this in her own words:

“Our Dad had a cheese factory. I recall happy days walking the 2½ miles along a country road to school, long summer evenings rambling over the hills, and occasionally bringing home a baby bunny. Dad also had a few pigs and we often had little squealers being cared for by the kitchen stove. Our home had one bedroom where we all slept. There was a front room where we danced to Marian’s gramophone and on Saturday night we had a bath in the tin bath placed in front of the coal range.”

The family moved to Dunedin in 1927 when Daphne was six, onto a farm above the North East Valley and then to Hope Street. Jamie ran the corner dairy store at 239 High St and then the Kemra Milk Bar in Princes Street. Marian and Daphne attended High Street primary school, where they were kept very busy by their ambitious mother with ballet, Scottish dancing, and elocution lessons. They did everything together and often were dressed as twins.

The two girls both then went on to Otago Girls’ High School where Daphne excelled and became head girl and Dux in her final year, 1938. She continued to excel in ballet and at one stage contemplated following her contemporary—dancer Rowena Jackson—to the Royal Ballet and a ballet career. However, her parents recognised that Daphne had an intellect that should not be wasted and asked their dour Scottish lawyer for advice. Should Daphne pursue a career in the law or medicine? “Oh no” came the reply, “there is no place for women in the Law”.

First day of university, 1939.
Margaret Cameron, Daphne Adams (nee Morrison), Gwen Buchan

With the decision made, Daphne entered Otago Medical School in 1939, just as WWII was beginning. She was the first in her family to go to university and lived at home in Dunedin while she studied. She was lucky to have a wide network of school friends to socialise with, including Gwen Buchan and Margaret Cameron who studied home science. As well as study, she enjoyed a social life, captured with photos of skiing trips to Mt Cook with her university friends.

There were few women in Daphne’s medical school class, but they stuck together and knew each other even though not all were in the same year level. There was a separate women’s common room that they could retreat to. Although many of the women in her year were 15-20 years older, Shirley Gudex (Appleton), Molly Woodroffe, Mavis MacDougall, and Shirley Tonkin were some that became lifelong friends from that time.

Following her graduation in 1944, Daphne applied for a house surgeon position at Waikato Hospital as it was one of the few hospitals that would take female graduates. As it happens, they were also one of the few that would take medical officers returning from the war. It was here that she met Butt (Albert) Adams, one such young medical officer, who looked after her when she was hospitalised with scarlet fever. Daphne and Butt were married in Dunedin in March 1946 and soon after travelled to Auckland where Butt had been invited to join his colleague and friend Vic McGeorge in general practice at 457 Mt Eden Rd.

 Daphne Phyllis Adams (nee Morrison), graduated 1944

Although she had entertained ideas of a career in anaesthetics, having worked in this field at Waikato, Daphne’s own medical career was put on hold with the birth of her first daughter, Jenny, in 1947. When Jenny was just a baby, Butt left to do his paediatric specialist training and exams in Edinburgh, while Daphne returned to work as a pathology registrar. She presented a paper at the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Medical Women’s Association (NZMWA) in 1948 titled “Pathology and Hygiene of Housework”! Daphne’s work was again put on hold when she and Jenny travelled to the UK to join Butt. They holidayed in Europe for some months, then returned to New Zealand to re-join the practice in Mt Eden.

Daphne then joined the Ministry of Health as a school doctor. Her second child John was born in 1953 and her next, Margaret, in 1958. She continued to work as a school doctor based out of the Mt Roskill office with trips to the main department at Marinoto Clinic in town. This was an important role in the 50s and 60s with many women medical practitioners giving immunisations and caring for the health of children referred by the school. Daphne also worked at the popular Health Camps which were run by the government and used as an adjunct for those children seen at school needing extra health and nutrition.

The Medical Women’s Association was a strong organisation at that time and Daphne and her colleagues were committed members from 1948 onwards. There were many meetings held at our home and conferences attended both in New Zealand and overseas. In 1971 Daphne was the Auckland Branch President and on behalf of the NZMWA she planted a tree (a Box Elder) in the Auckland Domain to mark the City of Auckland Centennial Year. Many hours were spent preparing submissions on health policies such as the Abortion Law Reform Bill and submissions to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Contraception, Sterilization, and Abortion and The White Paper on Health (1975). As time progressed and more women joined the medical workforce, the need for a separate organisation promoting women in medicine lost its relevance and membership declined.

After leaving the school doctor service, Daphne joined the Family Planning Association and was a long serving doctor at the Newmarket Branch. She also joined Butt for a short time in the practice at 457 until they both retired in the mid 1980’s. Daphne and Butt enjoyed an active retirement, travelling to visit their various grandchildren, working on their lifestyle property in the Coromandel, and relaxing at their beach property. Daphne was also an accomplished seamstress, embroiderer, knitter, and crocheter, and she spent many happy hours producing works of art for friends and family.

Daphne died in 2010 aged 89.

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