Jessie Clarkson Maddison

Dr Jessie Maddison, Class of 1902 (The Press 19 February 1902)

This biography has drawn heavily on information from Papers Past, the Otago Medical School Graduates File and the Cotter Medical History Trust. The above graduation picture is in the Cotter collection. We are very grateful for the personal communication received from Dorothy Page on Dr. Maddison.


Early Years and Her Family

Jessie Clarkson Maddison was born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 29 December 1875. (1) Her mother, Jane Maddison (nee Midmore), who passed away on 9 June 1920 at the age of 74 years (2) was born circa 1846 in Kent, England. Her father was a surveyor (3) and she immigrated to New Zealand as a single woman in January 1871 on the ship Charlotte Gladstone. Her trade was listed as nursemaid. (4) Joseph was born in Greenwich, England in 1850 and was educated in private schools prior to being articled to a Mr George Morris, at an old established architect office in London. He served there for five years prior to immigrating to New Zealand in 1872. He settled in Christchurch where he commenced his practice as an architect. (3) He married Jane in 1873 (5) and in addition to Jessie they had four other daughters. (5)

Jessie was their second born daughter. Her eldest sister Helen married a W.H. Gumbleton from Perth in 1907 (6) and they had two daughters; she passed away in Sydney in January 1948. (7) Her sister Laura married a William John Hunter, they had two daughters; she died in 1913 at the age of thirty-five possibly from childbirth as her second daughter was born that same year and died at three weeks of age. (5) Further records on her two youngest sisters, Esther and Gertrude, were not found.

Joseph, over the next forty-eight years, designed and erected a great number of buildings throughout New Zealand including some of the largest meat factories, freezing works and many hotels including the Christchurch Clarendon Hotel. (8)

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1887. (3) He passed away on 12 December 1923 at the age of 73 years. At his passing he was survived by his two eldest daughters, Helen and Jessie. (8)

Little is known about Jessie’s early years. The information with her 1902 graduation picture in Press indicates she was educated at Christchurch Girls’ High School and after matriculation attended Canterbury College prior to going to Otago. (9)

Medical School

Jessie commenced her medical training at Otago Medical School circa 1895 at the age of nineteen.

1895 Otago Medical School Attendance Roll for Anatomy

She was the seventh and only female graduate from the school in her 1902 graduation class of nine; she was twenty-six years old. (10)

Papers Past: N. Z. University Presentation of Diplomas to Otago Students. 04 July 1902. (10)

Page’s book on the history of medicine at the University of Otago from 1875 to 2000, describes the difficult culture these early medical women encountered, including Professor John Scott’s, Dean of the Medical School during the years of 1851-1914, attitude to women: (11)

Scott’s attitude to women in his classes gave an impression of forbearance rather than enthusiasm … The admission of women to the School was not generally welcomed by staff, students or the local medical fraternity. In the June 1891 issue of the Review, ‘Dunedin medico’ asked indignantly, ‘Why should a women unsex herself by giving way to a morbid craving which … can only be likened to an epidemic of insanity? (12) … The main concern of staff seems to have been how to combine teaching with decorum, but there were episodes of ill-will.

In the first years of the twentieth century, there were powerful elements in society hostile to women becoming doctors. An influential group of senior staff from the Medical School, led by Truby King and Ferdinand Batchelor, campaigned against higher education for women in general. They argued that it placed too great a strain on them at the ‘most momentous period of their lives’ and was thus detrimental to the ‘vitality of the race’. In 1909, Batchelor gave a lecture along these lines to an audience which included churchmen, members of parliament and doctors. He was strongly supported by King, then at the height of his influence as an expert on infant welfare. Although women doctors, including Siedeberg, sprang to the defence of higher education for women, the influence of the respected experts may well have helped account for the low number of women medical students in these early years. On the other hand, some of the Medical School staff who were hostile to higher education for women in theory, could be kind and helpful in practice.

In the Christchurch Medical Men Project 1850-1900, Geoff Rice indicates that in colonial Christchurch, apart from midwives and female pharmacists, the medical domain was exclusively male until Jessie was registered as the first female medical practitioner on 29 November 1902. (13)


Following graduation, Jessie spent time in Europe and Ireland and was successful in achieving her LRCPI (Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland). Like other early women graduates she found it difficult to obtain a hospital appointment. There is no record in the Otago Medical School Graduates File (14) that she was ever successful in obtaining work in a hospital in the “Dominion”.

A letter written circa February 1916 from Jessie’s address at 1 Latimer Square, Christchurch, indicates some of the medical responsibilities which she undertook following her return from Europe. The Australian website Trove has a copy of the handwritten letter written to the secretary of the Association of Registered British Medical Women in London seeking their assistance in helping her to be involved in the war effort in some way. In the letter the following details were given: (15)

  • She has been “anxious to undertake some patriotic medical work since the war broke out but so far had found no scope”. Both the Imperial Authorities and the New Zealand Director General of Medical Services indicated to her that medical women were not being accepted.
  • She enclosed a certificate from the Department of Education, New Zealand Government verifying she has been a Medical Officer to two Industrial Schools in her district which included 450 children up to the age of twenty-one.
  • She advised them she was not on the staff of the local Public Hospital.
  • She had a private practice amongst women and children.
  • She was an examiner for both the New Zealand Government Life Insurance Department and for Lunancy – the term used for mentally ill people during this era. (The Lunatics Ordinance 1846 stated that after certification by two doctors and a magistrate, a ‘lunatic’ could be held either in a goal or other prison, or in a public hospital or asylum. In the 1860s and 1870s provincial governments established purpose-built asylums, usually on the edge of the provincial capitals. (16))
  • She was a member of the British Medical Association.
Trove: Letter Dr Jessie C Maddison wrote to the Secretary of the Association of Registered British Medical Women Re: unable to obtain work with imperial forces and wishing to do patriotic medical work in England. (15)

 The Otago Medical School Graduates File and Papers Past indicate some of her other professional activities after her graduation. (17)

  • 7 October 1903 was appointed public vaccinator in Christchurch on her return from post-graduate studies in Europe
  • 1916-1918 worked for eighteen months at Wharncliffe Military Hospital, Sheffield, UK doing surgery (18, 19). In communications back to New Zealand, a London correspondent communicated that the hospital had beds for 1850 patients but could accommodate over 2000. There were 450 beds for medical cases, the rest were for surgery. (18) Jessie had spoken highly of the war work the women were doing in England, had enjoyed the experience in England but was glad to be back and planned to resume her practice in the “Dominion”. (19)
Papers Past: The Social Round, 1 September 1917 (18)
  • Worked at the General Lying-In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth, London, UK – no dates provided in the Graduates file. This hospital, which opened in 1767, was one of the first maternity hospitals in Great Britain. It closed in 1971. Lying-In is an archaic term for childbirth which prescribed a month long period of bed rest during the postpartum period. (20)
  • On her return from England after World War 1, she practiced in the Hawkes Bay. (21)
Papers Past: Women’s Corner, 23 July 1919. (21)
  •  In October 1919, she took over the practice of Dr C Raymond at Waipawa, a farming town sixty kilometres south of Napier. (22)
Papers Past: Advertisements, 9 October 1919. (22)
  •  She appears to have settled into the life of the town. In the Waipawa Football Club’s annual general meeting report of 1923, she is listed as one of their vice-presidents. (23) There is the occasional advertisement including one for a maid servant (24) and one for her lost Airedale Terrier. (25)
  • In May 1926 there were advertisements indicating she was selling her household belongings and her Studebaker light car, in preparation for her departure for England. (26) She went on a two year visit to England and toured America en route. (27)
  • In 1930, it indicates she was living in Christchurch, and was on a tour of Austria and Hungary. It is not known what she did following her return from this overseas trip. (28) However, a 18 March 1933 entry in the Personal Items of the Star (Christchurch) indicated she was arriving back on the Maunganui in Wellington after living in England for several years. (29)
  • By 1936, she was living in Auckland. (30) The Otago Medical School Graduates File have an undated entry that she was working at the Tetranga (Female) Reformatory located in Denniston, Auckland.
  • Jessie appears to have had some association with the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Women’s Medical Association. She was acknowledged as one of the earliest Otago medical graduates at a Cocktail Party (31) held at the home of Dr Barbara Roche, class of 1927, in honour of Dr Edith Summerskill, a visiting British physician, feminist, Labour politician and writer who had entered politics at age thirty-two. (32) Twenty-eight women doctors were present including Elaine Gurr, class of 1922, Elizabeth Hughes, class of 1923 and Alice Bush, class of 1937. Summerskill, was the guest speaker and reported that “she considered London was now the most promising centre for women doctors’ as prejudice against them there had practically ceased to exist”. (31)

 The Waipawa local historian Margaret Gray said among her papers on Dr Maddison, there was a personal description of her as “mannish in appearance, brusque in manner and a cigarette smoker.” (33) It would appear she played bridge as one of her social activities (34) and may have been a supporter of the National Party. (35)


She died of heart problems in Greenlane Hospital, Auckland on the 15 August 1947 and was buried in Waikemete Cemetery in Glen Eden, Auckland. She was 71 years old. (1)


  1. Personal Correspondence with Margaret Gray and Dorothy Page, 2006. Reference from National Register of Archives and Manuscripts, Maddison, Jessie Clarkson, 1875-1947. (Y3151), accessed 07/09/2006. 2006.
  2. Deaths. Press. 1920 10.06.1920:1. Available from:
  3. Obituary: Joseph Clarkson Maddison. Star 1923 12.12.1923 [07.06.2022].
  4. List of Immigrants per Ship Charlotte Gladstone. Press. 1871 31.01.1871. Available from:
  5. Births, Deaths & Marriages Online Wellington: Internal Affairs, New Zealand Government; [cited 2022]. Available from:
  6. Wedding. Freeman’s Journal. 1907 19.09.1907. Available from:
  7. Deaths. Press. 1948 29.01.1948. Available from:
  8. Obituary. Press. 1923 12.12.1923. Available from:
  9. Dr. Jessie Maddison Press. 1902 19.02.1902.
  10. N. Z. University Presentation of Diplomas to Otago Students. Evening Star. 1902 04.07.1902. Available from:
  11. Page D. Anatomy of a Medical School – A History of Medicine at the University of Otago 1875-2000. Dunedin: Otago University Press; 2008.
  12. Dunedin Medico. Otago University Review. 1891IV(1).
  13. Rice G. Online Publications: Christchurch Medical Men Project 1850-1900 Christchurch [19.05.2022]. Available from:
  14. Page D. Archival Research in Otago Medical School Graduates’ File conducted by Dorothy Page in 2006. Approval for use given by Dorothy Page. 2006.
  15. Maddison JC. Dr Jessie C Maddison (Christchurch, NZ) to secretary that unable to obtain work with imperial forces and wishing to do patriotic medical work in England. Canberra: Trove: National Library of Australiz; 1916 [cited 2022 19.05.2022]. Available from:
  16. Brunton W. Mental health services – Lunatic asylums, 1840s to 1900s Wellington: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand; 2011 [07.06.2022]. Available from:
  17. Archival Research in Otago Medical School Graduates’ File conducted by Dorothy Page, 2006. Approval for use given by Dorothy Page. 2006.
  18. The Social Round. Sun. 1917 1.09.1917. Available from:
  19. Dr Jessie Maddison. Star. 1918 22.06.1918. Available from:
  20. Wikipedia tfe. General Lying-In Hospital 2022. Available from:
  21. Women’s Corner. Press. 1919 23.07.1919. Available from:
  22. Advertisements. Waipawa Mail. 1919 9.10.1919. Available from:
  23. Football. Waipawa Mail. 1923 14.03.1923. Available from:
  24. Advertisements. Hawke’s Bay Tribune. 1921 05.09.1921. Available from:
  25. Advertisements. Waipawa Mail. 1925 24.08.1925. Available from:
  26. Advertisements. Waipawa Mail. 1926 03.05.1926. Available from:
  27. Personal. Hawke’s Bay Tribune. 1926 20.10.1926. Available from:
  28. Personal. Star. 1930 21.10.1930. Available from:
  29. Personal Items. Star. 1933 18.03.1933. Available from:
  30. Social News. New Zealand Herald. 1936 24.04.1936. Available from:
  31. Cocktail Party Women Doctors Meet. Auckland Star. 1944 26.07.1944. Available from:
  32. Edith Summerskill: Wikipedia -The free encylopedia; 2022 [cited 2022 26.05.2022]. Available from:
  33. Personal Correspondence with Margaret Gray and Dorothy Page, 2001.
  34. Social Gatherings. Auckland Star. 08.10.1934. Available from:
  35. National Party The Remuera Branch. Auckland Star. 1937 18.09.1937. Available from:
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