Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett

Doctor and feminist.

Agnes Bennett was for many years a resident of Lowry Bay.

She was born in Australia in 1872. In 1894 she became the first woman at Sydney University to gain a B.Sc. with honours. Bennett then studied medicine at Edinburgh after finding there were no opportunities for women scientists.

Group of female university undergraduates photographed by Naudin Studios of Sydney, circa 1893. Agnes Bennett, front row, centre

In 1905, unable to find suitable employment in Scotland and Sydney she took over a medical practice in Wellington. In 1908 she was appointed medical officer to St. Helen’s Hospital. In 1910 Bennett was appointed honorary physician to the children’s ward of the Wellington Public Hospital, the first New Zealand appointment of a woman doctor to the staff of a public hospital.

She championed the cause of vocational education for women. This brought her in to conflict with colleagues such as Truby King who argued that the rigours of the professional life impaired women’s natural functions as mothers.

During World War One she was commissioned captain in the New Zealand Medical Corps. She served at Shoubra Hospital and in Serbia.

Photograph taken by Agnes Bennett while serving in Serbia during World War One.
Photograph taken by Agnes Bennett while serving in Serbia during World War One.

Bennett built her house, Honda, at Lowry Bay in 1932. When it became too large for her in 1947, she gave it to the Women’s Division of the Farmers’ Union as a rest centre. She retired from St. Helen’s in 1936 but remained active, spending 1938 and 1939 in Northern Queensland assisting in the “flying doctor” service.

ENGLISH SCHOOLGIRLS ENTERTAINED.—Dr. Agnes Bennett entertaining some of the English schoolgirls who are visiting the Dominion. The entertainment took place at Dr. Bennett’s home at Lowry Bay. Evening Post, 25 September 1934

She served in various capacities during World War Two, including as resident medical officer at Banbury Hospital and as resident obstetrician at Woolwich Hospital.

In 1948 she became an officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. She continued to reside in Lowry Bay until her death in 1960.

Bennetts archives are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library. More photographs can be found on the National Library’s site.

The following books contain information about her life and can be borrowed from or viewed at Hutt City Libraries.

The book of New Zealand women : Ko kui ma te kaupapa / edited by Charlotte Macdonald. 1991

101 ingenious Kiwis : how New Zealanders changed the world / Tony Williams. 2006

Doctor Agnes Bennett / Cecil and Celia Manson. 1960

Also check out the online Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Photo at top of post – Dr Agnes Bennett. Shows her in army uniform. Possibly taken between 1916-1917 while she was commanding officer of the 7th Medical Unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, Macedonia, Serbia, during World War I.

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