What do you do when they say no?

Thank goodness for people like Constance Stone. When she applied to join the Faculty of Medicine at

Melbourne University the old boys’ network, parading as the Faculty members, said “NO!”

Constance was told women could not study medicine at Melbourne University. Issues were discussed in the degree course that it just wasn’t proper to talk about in mixed company!

(Strangely, how male doctors were supposed to address these issues with female patients did not seem a problem.)

Anyway, this was 1884 and Constance was young, female and probably worse of all, hailed from Hobart town, so nobody seemed concerned about refusing her entry to medicine. No one that is, except Constance herself. Somewhere along the way, she had learnt the value of “No!”

While some people accept “No” as a reason to give up, whine, passively submit or throw in the towel, Constance knew differently. She knew “No!” was a stick of dynamite.

Dynamite is a very handy invention. It allows you to store up energy in a very concentrated way. Then, when you need some explosive energy you can take the dynamite to where it’s needed.

Handled carelessly, of course, it can blow up in your face. But used properly it can be brought out when necessary and used for dramatic effect.

When the old boys told Constance she couldn’t do medicine she didn’t miss a beat. Rather than explode into a rage about the injustice of it all, she stored it up.

If she couldn’t study medicine in Australia, she would go overseas. Constance sailed to America and studied at the Philadelphia Medical Women’s College. Realizing that she still was not qualified enough to get over the hurdles back at home, she went to Toronto and took degrees in medicine and surgery.

On her way home, she travelled to London and worked at the New Hospital for Women. When she arrived back in Australia and applied for registration as a doctor she was made to wait months to be accepted. Eventually she was registered, begrudgingly, but still registered.

Constance was the first native-born Australian woman to become a registered doctor in Australia and she was far more qualified and experienced than many other doctors because she refused to accept “No!”

But Constance was not finished yet. We are sure she never had a vindictive bone in her body, but the “No!” she received at the hands of Melbourne University still seemed to fire her up.

In 1896 she got together with the eight other women doctors in Melbourne and they decided to build a hospital “for women by women”. In her own gleeful way Constance Stone was about to turn the tables.

These nine women started the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital for Women and Children. The Queen Victoria became one of the largest hospital of its type in the British Commonwealth.


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