This biography is largely based on an interview by Professor C. Farquhar with her eldest daughter Janice Quigley. In addition written and verbal information from her younger daughter Wynnis Armour was given to R. Taylor. Further secondary resources are listed in the bibliography at the end.
Class of 1936
The Early Years
Alice “Grace” Stanley was born to Alice Jane (nee Cromie) and Victor Robert John Stanley in Wellington on the 7th October 1913. She was always called by her second name Grace throughout her lifetime. Her only sibling, Victor Alan, was born two years later in 1915. Her parents, who married in 1911, were from an Irish background and were both born in New Zealand in 1887. Grace’s mother, Alice Jane, was raised on a farm in the Rakaia region, and in 1903 at the age of sixteen her forty-three-year-old mother died leaving seven children between the ages of six and nineteen. Alice Jane was clever and had just won a scholarship to Elam Art School but couldn’t use it as, being the eldest daughter, she had to look after her four younger siblings. She became a very good cook, and her household was always capably run. In her later years, Janice remembers her grandmother being a beautiful enamellist and painter and exhibiting some of her work in Wellington.
Grace’s early childhood was spent in different areas of New Zealand including Tuakau in the Waikato, as her father was employed as a station master. However, by the time she reached high school they were permanently based in Wellington and lived at Ranui Crescent in the suburb of Khandallah.
Janice related that the Stanley’s were extremely bright. Grace’s brother was a top Mensa (a high IQ society) member, did his BSc at Victoria, specialized in radar and became a radio engineer; during World War II he was based at Bletchley Park where he was involved with overseeing the use of chaff (tin foil) as a radar countermeasure. Aircraft or other targets spread a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminium, to confound the enemy’s radar. (1)
Grace was also considered to be very clever, particularly in mathematics. She attended Wellington Girls’ College and was dux in her graduation year and always enjoyed playing hockey. She obtained her Junior National Scholarship in 1926 at the age of thirteen (score of 536) (2) and her Senior National Scholarship in 1928 at the age of fifteen (score of 1561). (3) Following graduation, she attended Victoria University for three years and obtained a BSc. She had a university scholarship to help with her tuition and lived at home. She used to walk about nine kilometres from her home in Khandallah to the university to save the six pence on bus fare.
Otago Medical School and House Surgeon Years
Her daughter believes the depression was the driving force which led to Grace enrolling in medicine as there were no medical role models in her family. Her graduation with her BSc coincided with the depression years and she was unable to find work. She did not have to complete her Medical Intermediate years as she had covered the pre-requisite subjects in her BSc degree. She received a scholarship to attend Otago Medical School which her father supplemented. Her daughter thinks she probably commenced her studies in 1932 and stayed at St Margaret’s College throughout her time at Otago. While at Otago she received a university blue for participation on the hockey A team. Grace enjoyed Medical School, was sociable and became great friends with Claudia Shand. She and Claudia used to knit during their physiology lectures. Her favourite subject was pathology. Grace told her daughter the women in her year were the first to use nail polish. Both her daughters recall her telling them that the women students were asked by the lecturer to leave when the male reproductive system was taught. Janice doesn’t know if her mother started smoking and using alcohol during university days, but she used both during later years.
There were five women graduates in her year. Following her graduation in 1936, Grace was able to obtain a house surgeon’s position at Palmerston North Hospital in 1937. (5)
Early Palmerston North Career and Marriage
Grace enjoyed her years as a house surgeon at Palmerston Hospital and in 1939 stayed on to become a registrar.
While at Otago Medical School, she had met John Norman Armour who was a year behind – in the class of 1937. He was born on the 3 November 1912 to Margaret (nee McGruer) and James Norman Armour, an affluent Invercargill family. He was educated at Southland Boys High School and St Andrew’s College prior to entering Otago Medical School. He also was a house surgeon at Palmerston North Hospital in 1938 and 1939.
Grace and John were married in Wellington on the 9th February 1940. Grace made her own wedding dress, and they collected their own waterlilies which were on the top knot of her veil and bouquet.
After their marriage, Grace continued working at Palmerston North Hospital doing anaesthetics and was the acting Hospital Medical Superintendent for a period of time, as the superintendent had to take an extended leave due to contracting tuberculosis. In 1941, she set up her own private practice in anaesthetics and obstetrics and maintained a part-time hospital post as an anaesthetist. She had a real gifting for needlework and was known to embroider during these early years when she was the anaesthetist .
Grace quickly built up a large maternity practice and during the war years she was doing an average of seventy-five confinements per month which she skilfully managed. Grace told her daughter the war years resulted in a lot of local confinements due to Palmerston North being close to Ohakea Air Force base where many Americans were based. Circumcisions were routinely done during that era, and the male infants would be lined up for her to do one after the other. The women who came to her for their confinements continued to come to her as their general practitioner. Janice said she assisted in reducing the infant mortality significantly in the Otaki area. She was able to use the involvement of Plunket to assist in these improvements.
Grace was noted for her gentleness and expertise by patients, nurses, and her medical colleagues. (5) She was also in great demand as an anaesthetist in the private sector. (5) The war years were an extremely busy time for Grace. She was provided with a nurse to work in her private practice located at the front of their rental property at 31 Princess Street. After the arrival of Janice in August 1942 a land girl was also provided to look after her. In 1945, Grace’s father passed away at the age of fifty-eight; Grace’s mother became more involved in helping with the care of Janice and the Palmerston North household.
John enlisted in the New Zealand Medical Corps in 1941 and during 1942, was based for a time on Fanning Island, an atoll which is part of Kiribati. In later years, Janice remembers him talking about the cases of severe fungal infections including crotch rot, trench foot and athlete’s foot, which he treated among the service men. He was back in New Zealand for a short time which coincided with Janice’s birth; he had been picked up from Fanning Island by the American flagship and on the way back to New Zealand they came through the Battle of the Coral Sea. He was then posted to the Middle East with the 11th Reinforcements where he served in Libya, North Africa, and Italy. He returned to New Zealand in 1945 and was retired from the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. (5)
On his return to Palmerston North after the war, he was employed between 1945 and 1949 as a visiting medical registrar at Palmerston North Hospital. Janice recalls he got quite a surprise on his return as Grace had changed her hair colour to blond and maintained this colour for the remainder of her life.
Further Study in the United Kingdom
John decided he needed to do further post-graduate training. In 1950 he went ahead of the family to London and started training towards his membership in the Royal College of Physicians. He also spent time in Edinburgh. Six months later, Grace, nine-year-old Janice and Wynnis, who had been born in November 1948, set off to join their husband and father. Grace’s mother accompanied them, and she was able to help with childcare for some months before returning to New Zealand. Janice recalls her grandmother Stanley being very involved in looking after Wynnis as a baby and pre-schooler.
On the journey to England, the ship’s doctor was frequently inebriated, so Grace’s skills were often called upon “without any monetary recompense”. This included having to oversee a birth due to the incorrect reporting of an “expected date of delivery” and being put on a small boat and taken to a small Pacific Island and collecting a sick person who was dropped off at the next port of call for medical care. Sometimes, Grace was unable to gain access to the dispensary, so she was known to have used a tapestry needle for suturing.
While in London, they lived at Cockfosters, at the end of the Piccadilly subway line, and Janice attended the local school. The poor level of hygiene which Grace experienced while in England was concerning to her. It is unclear how much post-graduate training Grace did while in England, but she did several sessions in anaesthetics both in London and Edinburgh and Janice recalls she did some paid work collecting blood in Windsor. She also took some instruction in needlework at the Royal School of Needlework; like her mother she was very creative.
John obtained his MRCP(E) in 1952 and the family then returned to Palmerston North later that year. Wynnis was four by the time they returned. Janice mentioned that the ship had a fancy dress party to mark the crossing of the international date line; Grace created fun costumes – she and John were dressed as Lochness Monsters and the two girls plus another child on-board were dressed up as “Good, Better, Best”.
Resumption of Palmerston North Career
On their return, John became assistant physician at the hospital and started his own private consulting practice. They purchased property at 41 Princess St, (6) next to where they had rented at 31 Princess Street and built an art deco building based on a building Grace had seen and liked while in England. Janice recollects you came through a door from the medical rooms and through another door which led directly into their family home. Their home also had a swimming pool in the backyard which would have been uncommon in the 1950s. John’s rooms were on the ground floor and the top floor was rented out to other medical specialists. Janice recalls that in their household her father’s patients came first. When she was courting during her high school years, she had to go out to the call box on the corner of Princess Street where they lived as she wasn’t allowed to obstruct the home phone line.
John obtained his MRACP in 1960 and in 1964 became a visiting physician, a post he maintained until his retirement. He was known for his long working days, professional kindness and expertise. (5) He passed away in November 1989 following a long-standing malignant disease (prostate cancer with secondaries in the spine).
Both Janice and Wynnis attended Carncot School for Girls (now Carncot Independent School) for their primary schooling and Palmerston North Girls High School. They both commenced their tertiary education at the age of sixteen years.
Janice spent a year doing her Dental Intermediate at Massey University in Palmerston North and the following year she was successful in getting into the Dental Program at Otago but never completed her training as she fell in love with Hugh and married him in 1964. She has two children, John and Jane, and has four grandchildren. For many years she successfully ran her own real estate company in Christchurch. She is now a widow, and lives in a Christchurch retirement village.
Wynnis graduated from Canterbury University and worked as both a secondary school teacher and a director of a community education service. She later went on to senior management positions in both the public and private sector. In the 1990’s and 2000’s she was involved in the development, taking to market and subsequent sale of two very successful businesses. She was inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs in 2019. (7) She is the mother of two sons and five grandchildren. She continues to be involved on several boards and lives in Auckland with her scientist husband Dr David Elder.
It is unclear what precipitated Grace’s sudden early retirement at around the age of forty-four. Janice thinks it would have been around the time she was in fourth form, which would be circa 1954; she had continued to do some work in anaesthetics on their return from England but did not resume her private practice. She kept the books for her husband’s private practise and she maintained her medical registration up to 1977. (8) Her early retirement was met by dismay among her loyal clientele which she had built up during the 1940s. (5)
In thinking about it from today’s vantage point, Janice and Wynnis think her early retirement may have been a culmination of extreme exhaustion from the long hours of work she did during the war years, her desire to spend quality time with her husband who was a workaholic, and the pressure of the 1950s which tended to see the chief role of women as homemakers. Her own unrealized career goals may have led to a low-grade depression – her husband with his charm, good looks and his affluent upbringing compared to her own childhood may have produced a sense of insecurity. It is of interest to see this bias in the newspaper article announcing their marriage where it refers to “Dr John and Mrs Armour will make their future home in Palmerston North” although it does begin by acknowledging her status as a doctor. (9)
Janice cherishes the time between her birth and the end of the war as a special time of bonding with her mother. Her mother was also very good at helping her with her algebra homework; she thought her mother was very clever. She believes her younger sister Wynnis, who was born in 1948, missed out on this early bonding with their mother.
Looking back from 2022, Janice and Wynnis believe their mother’s focus after their time in England was committed almost entirely to her husband (they were devoted to each other) and her own activities to the exclusion of she and her sister. She was known to be an excellent cook and her love of needlework continued. (5) Both Grace and John were heavy smokers. In her early sixties, Grace developed renal failure and to be put on the kidney transplant list she needed a cardiac procedure – Wynnis thinks it may have been a coronary artery bypass but is not certain. She developed severe arrythmia problems after the procedure. Grace passed away in Auckland Hospital on the 23rd June 1978 at the age of sixty-four.
Her daughters believe their clever, creative mother was an “unrealized potential” and perhaps in a different era she would have been able to realize the dreams she had on her graduation from medicine.
- Wikipedia. Chaff (countermeasure) 2022 [updated 15.03.202226.03.2022]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaff_(countermeasure)
- Scholarships – Junior National List Examination Results. Evening Post. 1927 22.01.1927. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19270122.2.130
- Scholarships Senior National Successful Candidates. Evening Post. 1929 25.01.1929. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19290125.2.19
- Degrees Conferred. Press. 1937 22.01.1937. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19370122.2.47
- Cumming G. Obituaries: John Norman Armour and Alice Grace Armour. New Zealand Medical Journal. 1990;103.
- Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette: NZ Medical Register Wellington 1958 [cited 2022 11.04.2022]. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1958/67.pdf
- Trailblazers Inducted into Hall Of Fame 2019 [11.04.2022]; 11.03.2019. Available from: https://coofwomen.biz/news/2019/trailblazers-inducted-2019
- Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette: NZ Medical Register and Register of Specialists Wellington 1977. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1978/25.pdf
- Recent Weddings: Armour-Stanley. Evening Post. 1940. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19400126.96.36.199