Alice Mary Bush (nee Stanton)

This biography is largely based on material from Fay Hercock’s Master’s thesis “No talents wasted …. no time misspent : an account of the early life and career of Alice Mary Bush” (2) and Hercock’s biography based on her thesis “ALICE – the making of a woman doctor 1914 – 1974”. (1) Further secondary resources are listed in the bibliography at the end. We are very grateful for Fay Hercock’s review of and suggestions for this bibliography.

1937 Graduate



The Early Years

Joseph (later Sir Joseph) Stanton and his wife Marjorie McMaster welcomed Alice Mary into their family on the 6th August 1914. She was born at the family home in Herne Baby; their second child and first daughter. In addition to her eldest brother Joseph Warwick, in subsequent years two sisters (Patricia Marjorie and Aileen) and one brother (Allenby McMaster) joined the family. (2) The family was comfortably middle class, second-generation, Methodist New Zealanders. (1) In 1921, an acre of land was purchased at 88 Mountain Rd, Epsom and the life-long family home of “Denestone” was erected and is still in use. Denestone was Alice’s home for most of her life. It was an impressive home with landscaped grounds and a tennis court. In 1925, Marjorie purchased a beach cottage at Waiake on the North Shore for holiday enjoyment. (2)

Alice’s father Joseph was born in Auckland in 1884 into a working class family with six children. There is no record that Joseph’s father ever owned a house. He worked as a storeman and would have felt the traumatic loss of his forty-seven year old wife from typhoid fever in 1891. The children at the time of her death ranged in age from three to twelve years; Joseph was seven. Until his re-marriage in 1896, Joseph’s father would have struggled to manage his young family plus maintain an income. At the age of twelve, Joseph started attending Auckland College and Grammar School with the assistance of a Rawlings Scholarship (from the estate of a generous Mount Eden resident, Mr Henry Rawlings), which provided financial aid for disadvantaged boys. Joseph was a bright boy and his eventual rise in socio-economic status was due to his intelligence plus the virtues of hard work, personal integrity and strong family ties. These qualities undoubtedly assisted him as he methodically forged his career path towards becoming a lawyer and a practicing solicitor in 1907. This platform well-positioned Alice for adult life and was also key to her ability to enter the medical profession. (2)

Alice’s mother Marjorie McMaster was raised in a more affluent home. Her father co-owned a quality drapers shop in Queen Street (1) and the family was very involved in the Pitt Street Methodist Church. It was here that Marjorie probably met Joseph who was involved in the Sunday School and Youth activities. They married at this same church in January 1911 and set up their home in Herne Bay. Their first child arrived in 1913. (2)

In contrast to many homes of this era, she grew up in a close, supportive family where humanitarianism, perseverance, and self-discipline was fostered and the parents and children showed mutual respect for each other. (3) Smacking was never used by either the parents or the hired help which consisted of a live-in nursery-housemaid and cook as well as a regular cleaning woman and gardener. (1) As a 25-year-old house surgeon Alice wrote:

For years, I have lived mostly away from home, and yet it still means to me as much as when I was at school. It is not just a convenient place to spend holidays, but it is my home from which for long periods I am exiled and to which I always long to return. The family ties are very strong. (1)

Alice was sent to the private schools of Hill Top for her primary and Diocesan High for her secondary education. During her senior year she participated in sports, drama, editing the school magazine and was a prefect. She matriculated in 1930 and was also confirmed in the Anglican faith in the Diocesan School Chapel that year. (2) In 1932, Alice was one of that year’s debutantes and made her formal debut into Auckland society at Government House. (2) Between these two events, a tragedy came to the Stanton family which affected the health of both her parents. In August, 1931, Alice’s eldest brother Warwick who had earlier commenced his studies in law, had joined fourteen other university students and climbed to the summit of Mount Ruapehu. The weather worsened during their descent and while the others got to safety, Warwick’s body was found a week later after a very public search. (2) It was during this time of sorrow and grief that Alice embarked on her training in medicine.

Alice ‘comes out’ at Government House, Auckland, June 1932. Andrew Studios. Courtesy Christine Moorhouse (1)

In an interview in 1971 published in the Auckland Star, (2) Alice said that her decision to enter Medicine was a goal she held since her girlhood. Her exact words were:

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to be a doctor ….



It helped that Alice came from a family who were able to support her financially over the next six years of study. In correspondence to her future husband Faulkner Bush, she wrote of the financial arrangement made with her father. These arrangements demonstrate her own sense of personal responsibility and fairness.

My training cost £535, including board, and the following arrangement has been made. I make no further payments now, but if Daddy dies before I do, then I shall receive £300 less from his estate than I otherwise would have. All very complicated, but he seems to think that is fair, so now if things remain normal I have no obligations, except of course if anything drastic happened to Daddy’s business .… then I should, of course, do the right thing. (2)

Studying at the Otago Medical School

During 1932 Alice had attended Auckland University College to complete her medical intermediate year prior to commencing her studies at Otago Medical School in 1933. (4) During the early twentieth century, science education was mainly directed to Home Science in the New Zealand Girls Colleges. Therefore, her lack of adequate preparation in the sciences is possibly reflected in her Inorganic Chemistry (53%) and Physics (52%) marks. (2) Nevertheless, her overall grades were high enough to award her an acceptance to Otago Medical School.

While in Dunedin, it was arranged that Alice would live with her mother’s sister Nellie and her husband Professor Richard Lawson, who held the Chair of Education at Otago University College. Others in the household were their daughter Ida, an Arts student, and Ida’s cousin who was studying dentistry. The family lived in one of a group of four university houses adjacent to the university and had an active social life with other members of the academic staff which Alice was included in. (2) By 1936, she was living in St Margaret’s College, a Presbyterian women’s hostel, on the Otago University campus and interacting to a greater extent with her fellow university students.

Six women commenced medical training in 1933 but only Nan Berry and Margaret Jackson completed the degree with Alice. In the first year, two had dropped out and another transferred to dentistry. In addition, by her third year, Beatrice Nelson joined their group having had to repeat third year. At the beginning of that year, the class photograph shows four women and sixty-eight men. (2) The seating arrangement in lectures from the turn of the century continued, with the women sitting together on the front bench as well as having their own common room. (1) Women students recall no real problems due to their gender but there seemed to be an underlying expectation they would marry and give up medicine sometime in the future. (2) However, there were still evidences of inequalities. In 1934, Alice received the Scott Medal which was traditionally awarded to the student who was judged by the Professor to have the best knowledge of Human Anatomy (Alice had passed with 85 per cent). This was based on class examinations, practical work, and on the First Professional Examination (which she passed with distinction). Traditionally, the person who received this medal was offered an appointment as a graduate demonstrator in anatomy on completion of their degree. However, Alice was taken aside by Professor Gowland, head of the Anatomy Department, and despite having great personal respect for her, he told her that the appointment would go to a man. (1)

Alice actively participated in university life, taking on the role of secretary of both the Women’s Students Club and the Medical Debating Society and by 1936 she was Lady Vice-president of the Student’s Association and Chairman of the Women’s Students Club. (1) Alice completed her training, achieving a final place of sixth or seventh in the class. (2) Hercock, in her thesis, reports that fellow students remember Alice as: (2)

A pleasant and intelligent young woman, poised in social situations, essentially conservative in her views and, despite an involvement in the wider aspects of university life, a conscientious and successful student.

Her sixth year as a medical student was spent at Auckland Hospital where she went back to living in her beloved family home of “Denestone” on Mountain Road. She attended and participated in ward rounds, operating theatre sessions and short instructional courses. There were no exams until the students returned to Dunedin at the end of 1937 for their finals.  The medical superintendent of Auckland Hospital, Dr J. W. Craven, commented in November of 1937 that Alice was probably the most brilliant student the hospital had that year. With this high praise, Alice would no doubt have confidently expected to be accepted as a Junior Resident Medical Officer (first-year house surgeon) for the following year. (2)

House Surgeon Years

The perennial problem of accommodation for female house surgeons in Auckland during the early decades of the 1900s continued to be an obstacle for Alice. From the Auckland Hospital Board minute book – Jan to Dec 1937, it would seem this was the block in being able to offer Alice a position. However, in the end Alice was accepted with what some believed was an “unbelievable compromise”. “Denestone”, her family home on Mountain Road was in close proximity to Auckland hospital and so she “lived out” during 1938. However, she took the unusual step of requesting a “boarding allowance” which was granted (30/- per week). No doubt, she was aware she needed to push for equal treatment and equality. (5) It may have helped that her influential father had support from a board member, Dr E. B. Gunson, who appears in the board minutes to have been an advocate on Alice’s behalf. (2)

In 1939, Alice was appointed as a senior house surgeon at New Plymouth Hospital, where female accommodation was not a problem. It is unclear whether Auckland would have renewed her appointment but from private correspondence to her future husband (2) it seems she went to New Plymouth for more personal reasons. During her university years and as a sixth-year student she had attended social functions with a fellow student – they were regarded as a “twosome”. At the end of her training the long-term relationship ceased. In 1945 she recalled:

I was never what you’d call popular, as a girl. I think I must have been rather dull, socially. At Varsity I might have emerged from that state but it was smothered by a senseless loyalty to a very mediocre person which derived largely from a puritanical feeling that because I’d let him kiss me I must love him forever, & partly from pity. Then he let me down, when he no longer needed me to assuage his own loneliness & homesickness. I swore after that I’d not take into consideration the hurting of a man’s feelings, they could damn well look after themselves. I turned my back on Puritanism, started out to have a good time. That was when I went to N.P. & there had a taste of what good fun life can be. For the first time in my life I saw myself as an attractive woman & it warmed my heart …. Maybe I was nearer the truth in my original puritanical outlook on life, but I only know that it stunted my life for over 6 yrs ….

In this same correspondence to her future husband, Alice’s concept of turning her back on Puritanism seemed to consist of smoking quite heavily and drinking moderately which described the life of a mature, respectable single woman in the late 1930s. She continued to be a ‘pretty chaste woman’ (romantically unattached). She enjoyed life in both her working and leisure hours, often working twelve to fourteen-hour days. (2)

Commencing Her Career

World War II influenced the trajectory of Alice’s early career. Large numbers of New Zealand medical men were keen to serve actively in the war. The female doctors were a “solution” for the largely male dominant medical profession. Alice found herself in a very opportune position. Late in 1939, she began negotiations with Dr Edward Sayers (later Dean of Otago School of Medicine from 1958 to 1968) with a view to acting as his locum for the duration of the war. He was a Visiting Physician to Auckland Public and Karitane Hospitals and the owner of a thriving consulting practice as a general physician and specialist in tropical diseases as well as having an interest in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies and asthma. (2, 3) The practice was located on Queen Street. By early 1940, negotiations between Alice and Dr Sayers were established with her father providing legal counsel. It was agreed that Alice would take the first £400 of the practice’s profits once expenses were paid. Any income over that amount would be split three ways – one-third to Alice and two-thirds to Sayers. If this amount reached £1600 the proportions would be altered to half each. Alice was bound “for the duration of the war, or until he (Sayers) came back”. In the event of Dr Sayers not returning Alice would have the option of buying his equipment and carrying on under the same arrangement for two years, when the practice would become hers entirely. (2)

Alice finished at New Plymouth Hospital on the 4th of February 1940, took a week’s holiday which included some time with her future husband, whom she married on the 17th August 1941. (Their marriage and family life are covered in more detail later in this biography.) She then commenced her orientation with Dr Sayers for two weeks before being left on her own. She moved back into “Denestone” and paid board to her mother. On the eve of taking over the practice, she wrote the following to her future husband (2):

Dr. S. is just finishing up and next week I shall have to stand on my own feet. I have very mixed feelings, but oh! I’m going to try hard …. you’ve got to look after your patients first and if there’s any time left, then it should be devoted to keeping you fit to deal with your patients. This is the philosophy which I am adopting…

Early Career

Alice took on the responsibilities of Dr Sayer’s practice with diligence. Her work at the practice developed what was to become a lifetime interest in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and allergies. It also started her lifetime association with the Karitane Hospital.

Alice made the most of the opportunities she was given. The Labour Party which had come to power in 1935, had set about constructing a Social Security Act that contained provisions for a universal “free” health service to be funded by income-related taxes. Doctors were reluctant to embrace this as they felt it would turn them into salaried civil servants and interfere with freedom of choice for both doctor and patient. A group, made up mostly of Auckland specialists, called the “Medical Study Group” was set-up by Dr Douglas Robb and in 1940 Alice was asked to join it. She was attracted by Robb’s liberal ideas based on progressive individualism and status earned by merit. Robb believed that “people had in recent years lost their authority and become cogs in the great machine of the state”. In 1943, the group published their alternative viewpoint in a small book called “A National Health Service”. Although, the book was largely written by Robb, it was published as a group effort and the authors were listed in alphabetical order with Bush at the top of the list. In bibliographies, it commonly appears as “Bush, Alice, et al”. (1)

Her work during the war years also pushed her into the field of sex education due to an increase in venereal disease and pregnancies outside of marriage. She lectured to the Auckland YWCA on “Men and Women’s Relationships in Wartime”. Her talks included the physiology of human sex organs and sexual intercourse in men and women, and the causes and symptoms of venereal disease. She advised women that they were entitled to demand of any prospective husband that he should have a medical examination including a blood test to ensure that he did not have venereal disease for “the sake of her children”. (1) She contended it was part of the higher nature of human beings to control the sexual instinct for the good of the family and the community. Woman had a responsibility not to arouse a man’s ‘more aggressive nature’. (5) In 1944, with the encouragement of YWCA, these lectures were published as a pamphlet called “Personal Relationships” with the aim of providing in a straightforward manner the main facts of sexual relationships, leaving to each reader the responsibility of making their own rules. In the foreword and closing sections, she defined structures upon which such choices ought to be made. (2) During the later war years, she also became an active member of the revived Auckland Branch of the Medical Women’s Association which had lapsed during the early war years . (4)

Dr Sayers returned from his war responsibilities towards the end of 1944, and he and Alice negotiated a second formal three-year partnership. She entered a three-year professional partnership with Dr Sayers, having a one-third interest in the practice and retaining the Karitane Hospital appointment. (1) Alice (with Faulkner’s agreement) was now set on her career trajectory of not only continuing in fulltime medical practice but also of becoming a qualified medical physician with a speciality in paediatrics. With the encouragement and help of Dr Sayers, she commenced study towards her first formal postgraduate qualification, membership of the Australasian College of Physicians. (3) Hospital appointments were essential in advancing a postgraduate medical career and women were not as successful in obtaining these positions at Auckland Hospital. However, in September 1944 Alice obtained a position in the children’s wards. Her contract was to attend the children’s wards three mornings a week and on Sundays. She was also delighted to be able to work with the well-known specialist in child health, Dr Sammy Ludbrooke. By 1947, Alice was clearly on course to become a paediatrician and during that year she, along with Drs Ludbrooke, Elizabeth Hughes and Basil Quin, set up the Paediatric Society in New Zealand. (2)

To become a specialist, she now required a postgraduate qualification. Her husband returned to Auckland from the war on 15 January 1946. They left for a holiday in the South Island on 1 February. On the way they spent three days in Wellington where Alice sat the examination which made her the first New Zealand trained woman member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. (4) She then started to make plans to travel to London as a candidate for membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP). Their son Peter was born in September 1947, and they sailed from the port of Lyttleton on the 20th December 1947, accompanied by a Karitane nurse. This time away was important for both her professional advancement as well as their family life. It was the first time they had been able to be a small nuclear family and establish their own routine practices on the domestic front. She sat her first MRCP exams in April 1948 and but was only successful on her third attempt in January 1949. She also sat for a Diploma in Child Health at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, London, which was at that time the only formal qualification in paediatrics. She also availed herself to meetings of the Association of Allergy.

On their return to New Zealand in mid-June 1949 Alice was in the early stages of another pregnancy. Her daughter, Christine Mary, was born on Christmas Day. Her husband resumed his teaching career and Alice resumed her own private practice as a specialist in child health in April, 1950. (1, 2) With family support and domestic help, she balanced the challenges of her roles as wife, mother, and medical specialist. (3)

In early 1950, the addition of a visiting senior hospital appointment at Auckland Public Hospital’s “Princess Mary Hospital” became available and Alice was successful in being appointed. In addition, in April 1952 she successfully applied for the position of physician-in-charge of an Allergy Clinic. She also contributed to teaching sixth year medical students on behalf of the Branch Faculty of the Otago Medical School at Auckland Public Hospital and became active on various Hospital Committees. (1) In 1955, she became the first New Zealand woman to be elected a Fellow of the Australasian College of Physicians. (3)

It was difficult to establish a private paediatric practice in the 1950s, so Alice’s established reputation as an allergist helped to augment her clientele for her own private practice located in a residential block in Whitaker Place, off Symonds Street. It served a dual purpose; as her professional rooms as well as the living accommodation for her nurse-receptionist. From the beginning, Alice saw mostly children, but some adults also came for allergy and asthma problems as well as counselling and contraceptive advice. The business skills she had developed in her locum and later partnership with Dr Sayers ensured her practice was a financial success. (1)

As Alice became busier, she paid less attention to her physical appearance. For some this was noteworthy because she was a “specialist and her male counterparts usually dressed impeccably”. This was just another facet of the way women were judged. On formal occasions she could look elegant which stunned people who knew her. (1)

Later Career

In addition to her continuing normal work commitments Alice worked tirelessly for several causes.

Alice had a twofold approach about the responsibilities of the individual: firstly, to fully develop one’s talents, and secondly, to use those developed talents to benefit society. Her early career, during the 1940s and early 1950s, focused more on the first responsibility. However, as she entered the late 1950s, one saw her moving towards her responsibilities to benefit society. (1)

As a paediatrician, Alice held the principal belief that the effects of a child’s early environment, both physical and emotional, are far-reaching and only when this is understood will it be possible to improve life in the community. (6) She had strong ideas on the raising of children and believed the mother was the one who would know the most about her baby. The worst thing that anyone could do to a mother was to make her afraid of her baby. (1) The most coherent collection of Alice’s ideas on child-raising is found in a series of articles in the New Zealand Family Doctor, a health education magazine published during the early 1960s by Wilson & Horton in conjunction with the Auckland division of the NZ British Medical Association. Alice, who had been raised in a liberal home, had ideas which were revolutionary. In the 1950s, firm control of children was considered a virtue, corporeal punishment a right, and early toilet training the hallmark of a mother’s success. Alice’s ideas on child raising challenged these concepts. She believed a good father was to spend time with his children and share equal responsibility for any social problems resulting from poor parenting. She was fond of handing out a tract which included the American parent educator Dorothy Law Nolte’s inspirational poem, “Children learn what they live” and hung a framed copy of this poem, written in 1954, in her waiting room. (7)

If a child lives with criticism, He learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, He learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, He learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, He learns to feel guilty.…………
Alice in her public persona as an experienced and widely respected paediatrician of the early 1970s. NZH


As a founding member and later office-holder of the Paediatric Society of New Zealand, she was committed to improved child health services, with the ultimate aim of establishing a properly designed and serviced children’s hospital as well as the establishment of University Chairs of Child Health. She also supported psychological services for children and employment of social workers and play therapists within the hospital system. (3, 4)


Alice continued her wartime efforts in sex education with adolescents. Mother and daughter and father and son evenings addressed by suitable speakers and sponsored by the Federation of Parent-Teacher and Home and School Associations were held. Alice was a member of the advisory panel which produced a pamphlet to assist parents to educate their children about questions relating to sex. (1)

From the 1940s Alice became more involved in the Family Planning Association (FPA). Conditions during the war years had made generalisations around contraception difficult. In a 1944 national executive meeting, Alice raised the question of what attitude to adopt when young people, about to marry, sought contraception advice. It was decided the medical advisor must use his or her own judgment. (8) By 1960, Alice became very involved with the FPA as the wider medical profession had chosen to ignore women’s quest for scientific contraceptive knowledge. The New Zealand branch of the British Medical Association did not appreciate a ‘lay’ organisation’s success in overcoming this gap. The FPA saw the need to fight the medical establishment with one of its own although some 1960s feminists saw this as a retrograde takeover by one of the medical fraternity. Alice took on the challenge and became its most honoured and best remembered president with the agenda to liaise between the FPA and the doctors’ association which she did with diplomatic success most of the time. They received official recognition from the New Zealand British Medical Association in July 1961. (8) In the mid to late1960s, the advent of the oral contraceptive pill, the intrauterine contraceptive device and the Depo-Provera injection required the input of the doctor’s expertise in the Family Planning Clinics and the clinics were operated under the charge of registered medical practitioners with special training. (8)

Alice was a Christian and a believer in the traditional nuclear family which influenced her perspective as FPA president. During the 1960’s,the controversy of supplying contraceptive advice to teenagers and those not yet married escalated but, by the early 1970’s Alice moved with FPA to promote contraception for sexually active youth as she believed society needed to come to terms with youth behaviour. (8)

In her book Rocking the Cradle – Contraception, Sex and Politics in New Zealand Helen Smyth reports on the influence Alice had in helping to pave the way for contraception among the Māori and Pasifika populations. (8) In 1967 she was invited to speak to elders from the Otara Māori Committee and made a great impact on expanding their knowledge on family planning. She explained she favoured not the limiting, but the spacing of children which would result in better health for mothers and children. The mortality rate of Māori babies up to age one was twice that of Pakeha, while toddlers were three times greater. When asked about the relationship to family planning, she pointed out that when a mother had a baby on the breast, one at crawling stage, and a three-year-old, then the latter generally had to look after itself although not fully capable. She challenged whether some Māori men were not flaunting their pride in large families at the expense of their own children. She was invited back one month later and was told the previous meeting had made a great impact. People had come “to scoff and remained to pray” – the principle of family planning had been accepted. She was named honorary tohunga of Otara. (8)

Alice was sensitive to social change and was a frequent contributor to the correspondence columns of the press and took on speaking engagements with the causes she believed in. She was active in women’s organisations including the National Council of Women and Zonta. In later life she supported more radical causes, including personal support for abortion law reform, but she continued to maintain her belief in the family as an essential social unit. (3, 4)

She was an active member of the Auckland Division of the Medical Association and the Auckland Branch of the Medical Women’s Association until her death. In 1970 she was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London – our only New Zealand woman Fellow of this College at that time. (6)

Marriage and Family Life

Alice met her husband at the New Plymouth Hunt Club Ball at the end of August 1939. It was a blind date and was not an “obvious” match. Faulkner Bush was a sole-charge teacher at a country school nineteen kilometres north of Taihape and was a big man, fit, sporty, loud, brash and from a family which had seen “better days”. He and other teachers in the district would converge in Taihape on the weekends discussing and debating alternative political and economic ideologies which had grown out of the Depression years. They were for anti-colonialism, a reformed monetary system, pacifism, and a more egalitarian system which would provide state funded education, health, and welfare services for all. (1) His relationship with Alice quickly grew through many letters back and forth, and the occasional phone calls and visits to New Plymouth. Her lightweight popular novels were replaced with books published by the Left Book Club. (1) Alice appreciated having her intellect stimulated and challenged but basically maintained her viewpoints and beliefs derived from her upbringing. Although they debated over points of view on many topics, they did come to an agreement on marriage. Faulkner met her family in January 1940, and it was not altogether successful. He was insecure within her strong and supportive family and Alice’s father courteously made it clear that he would not have been his first choice as a future son-in-law. They were married in a small wartime ceremony at Diocesan School Chapel on 17 August 1941 with only family in attendance. Alice was twenty-seven years of age. (1)

After the wedding ceremony.
Peter Bush (1)

They made “Denestone” their family home through wartime contingency and the generosity of her parents although Faulkner had some misgivings about this arrangement. There was an acute housing shortage and Alice’s mother was in failing health and died at the end of 1942, so Alice took on more of the supervision of the domestic responsibilities. Alice’s sister and her two small children joined the household when her husband went overseas to serve in the war. By 1945, at the end of the war, the home had plenty of activity with seven adults and two children living under the one roof. Except for Alice and Faulkner’s short time in the United Kingdom, it remained their home throughout their lifetime. Alice was a dutiful daughter and Faulkner never felt he was the head of the home until her father’s passing in 1963. (1)

Faulkner filled temporary teaching posts in Remuera and Papatoetoe until he formally entered the army in March 1941. He was able to do a combination of army service and his law studies which he had commenced after their marriage. Prior to him being posted overseas, they decided the time was right to start a family. Their daughter Lesley was born in September 1943, the same month Faulkner was transferred to the Medical Corp and awaited embarkation for the Middle East – he eventually ended up at Bari, Italy in the No. 3 New Zealand General Hospital as a ward orderly. Faulkner’s struggle with self-esteem increased with this position. Many of his seniors were ward sisters. He chose to spend extra time on night shifts because “there were fewer sisters around”. At times, his unhappiness became true depression.

After three months maternity leave, Karitane nurses were employed to look after Lesley. Alice was often conflicted with their style of care versus what she would have done if she was in charge – for example not allowing her daughter to cry for any length of time. (1) In November 1945, Lesley, who was an extremely active child was suffering from a cold. Alice, to keep her covered, used a sleeping bag, which she sometimes pinned to an ordinary bed in the absence of a cot. That night she put Lesley into her bed. In some way, Lesley became entangled by the sleeping bag. She was later found hanging cold and limp and was unable to be revived. Correspondence from this time shows Faulkner was most supportive of his wife. Through the assistance and influence of her father and professional associates he was able to return to Alice in early February 1946. (1)

Peter, Christine, Faulkner and Alice at a friend’s wedding reception.
Ray Bridal Services. Courtesy Christine Moorhouse. (1)

The war years without Faulkner were challenging. Alice was struggling with work-homelife-motherhood balance in her hectic life. She was working full-time with many out-of-hour call outs, a young toddler and overseeing the running of the busy “Denestone” household. In letters, Faulkner exhorted Alice to spend her time on her work, post-graduate study and their child. By 1945, he was writing and offering Alice her freedom. He felt her career was “claiming more and more of you and leaving less and less for other things and for me”.

She wrote in 1945: (1)

You say you can be happy only in a set up wherein you & I meet on an equal basis. I agree…. The crucial point is what is this equality. Would you consider it exists in the average home where the man follows his vocation & provides the money & the woman, whatever her talents or aspirations might be is tied to the washtub, the sink, or the children, or if there should be enough money, she may have the choice of a life of frivolity or voluntary social service ….

My idea of equality in marriage demands that each partner should be free to develop their own talents to the fullest extent that is possible, admitting their joint responsibility to provide a home, companionship & supervision for the family.

Over the years they eventually reached a steadiness in their relationship, but it was dominated by Alice’s career. He found it easier to accept the demands of her career when there was the potential for social good. Although Faulkner completed his law degree and a master’s degree through Auckland Teacher’s Training College, he never pursued law and returned to teaching in November 1946. He enjoyed teaching but was less driven than his wife. He eventually became headmaster of Avondale Primary School in 1964. (1)

Early on in their marriage, after Faulkner’s return from overseas, they realized their dream family of six children was not going to work with Alice working. They had two further children, Peter born in September 1946 and Christine, born on Christmas Day, 1949. She later went on to study law like her maternal grandfather. (1)

In 1980, towards the end of his life Faulkner wrote: (1)

As time went on, I became more & more proud of her, & more & more co-operative & helpful in her activities. I think Alice was tough enough mentally to reach the top whatever I did. Like her father, she was tremendously determined …. I must say that, in real terms, any “sacrifice” I made was minimal, & immeasurably recompensed by the life I was able to lead with this supreme woman.

Untimely Death

Alice continued in her working commitments at Auckland Hospital, Karitane Hospital, and in private practise until her untimely death on Tuesday, 11 February 1974 at age fifty-nine. In May of the previous year, she had suffered a myocardial infarction but shortly thereafter was back working her usual long days. More frequent anginal pain on the Sunday was ignored and she went about her usual working day on the Monday. On her arrival home to an empty house late in the afternoon she called her cardiologist Dr Kevin O’Brien, who picked her up and took her into Auckland Hospital. She passed away the following afternoon. (1)

No doubt if she had lived longer, she would have received a suitable honour to recognize her significant contribution as a physician, paediatrician and activist for family planning services and abortion access. “The Alice Bush Memorial Prize – The University of Auckland” is given for the best performance in undergraduate Paediatrics during their MBChB Part V year. This prize was established by the NZ Medical Women’s Association in 1976. The ZONTA Club of Auckland Inc. set up a trust fund to foster postgraduate medical research and special scholarships in memory of Dr Bush.  After her death, her supporters suggested that the establishment of a dedicated national children’s hospital which Alice had campaigned for, should bear her name but this was formally rejected by the hospital board. This long-awaited hospital – “The Starship Children’s Hospital” was not established in Auckland until 1991.

During the mid to late twentieth century, Alice was an unusually public person. She had an active and receptive mind which embraced new ideas which took her into the public domain where she was often exposed to criticism. Her theories on allergies, her outspokenness and reforming zeal and her role in FPA could antagonise as well as inspire. Although her views on contraception for the unmarried and abortion liberalised over the years, her commitment to the ideal of constraint in sexual activity outside marriage, and her unshaken belief in the value of family life, were considered old-fashioned by the generation of the late sixties and early seventies. (3) As a medical woman she pioneered novel frontiers in the promotion of both women’s and children’s health. This was not done at the expense of her individual medical practice where she showed great tenderness and compassion for her patients. (9) In the obituary published in the New Zealand Medical Journal the following was written in tribute to Alice: (6)

In Auckland, we all think of Alice as someone who was intensely concerned about the individual, yet totally lacking in sentimentality and any form of cant, who spoke her mind courageously and who could cut through the trappings of conventional ideas and verbiage to the truth of the matter when others feared to do so. And yet she had patience and tolerance for those lacking in her own remarkable qualities.


  1. Hercock F. ALICE – The making of a woman doctor 1914 – 1974. Auckland Auckland University Press; 1999.
  2. Hercock FE. No talents wasted …. no time misspent: an account of the early life and career of Alice Mary Bush. Auckland: University of Auckland; 1988.
  3. Hercock F. Alice Bush 1914 – 1974. In: Macdonald C, Penfold M, Williams B, editors. The Book of New Zealand Women, Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books Ltd.; 1991.
  4. Hercock F. Alice Mary Bush 1914-1974. In: Maxwell MD, editor. Women doctors in New Zealand: an historical perspective, 1921-1986. Auckland IMS (NZ); 1990.
  5. Anderson K. Beyond the Pioneer Woman Doctor: A study of women doctors in Auckland 1900-1960 [History]. Auckland: University of Auckland; 1992.
  6. Hunter A, Quin, B. . Obituary: Dr Alice Mary Bush. New Zealand Medical Journal. 1974;79:990.
  7. Price-Mitchell M. Children Learn What They Live: Lessons from Dorothy Law Nolte: Roots of Action; 2011 [cited 2021 15.7.2021]. Available from:
  8. Smyth H. Rocking the Cradle: Contraception, Sex, and Politics in New Zealand. Wellington Steele Roberts Ltd; 2000.
  9. Bryder L. Alice Mary Bush, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand; 2000 [updated 30.11.2001]. Available from:
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