This biography is based on an interview with Prudence “Sally” Fitzerald’s niece, Susan Cambridge, in 2019 for the Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project
Prudence Ann Fitzgerald was the second oldest daughter of Elspeth Mary Fitzgerald, who had herself graduated from medical school in 1920. Prudence, who was “not at all prudent”, according to her niece, was more commonly known as Sally. She was a highly intelligent girl who may have felt out of place at school, as she was much brighter than the other students. Both her parents were successful doctors, and there was never any question that she would also go to medical school and become a doctor.
Like her mother, Sally attended Nga Tawa School for Girls in Marton, where she was the dux of her final school year. She decided to study paediatrics, probably inspired by her mother who was a well-known paediatrician in the area. After graduating from Otago Medical School, Sally worked and studied overseas, first in England, and then for awhile in Nigeria, where she married another doctor—an English heart specialist, Derek Abrahams.
Sally and Derek moved to Sydney together, and Sally worked for many years as a paediatrician in the Spastics Centre. The couple had children together, and Sally would organise her working life around them, so that she could be at home after they returned from school.
“A nice story about that is that she heard her son when he was about six or seven, calling somebody a ‘spastic’, you know, as a term of derision: “You spastic”. And she made both her children come and work with her after school at the Spastic Centre for a month to show them that people who were spastic were people and children like them.”
Sally and Derek eventually divorced. Later in life she married another doctor who she had known earlier in her medical career, and she travelled back to England to live with him there. He unfortunately died suddenly from a heart attack only a year or two after their marriage, and Sally then returned to her home in Sydney, where she probably retired about the age of sixty.
Sally was a warm, outgoing person who loved working with people, which undoubtedly helped her during her career. By the 1950s and 60s, women in medicine perhaps faced fewer challenges compared to her mother’s era, however Sally’s personable nature may have helped her deal with any gender discrimination that she faced.
“I think she was such a positive person and got on so well with everybody that I think probably she didn’t have many problems.”