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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Anderson, Phyllis Margery (1901–1957)

by Moira Scollay

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Phyllis Margery Anderson (1901-1957), pathologist, was born on 13 January 1901 at Petersham, New South Wales, daughter of James Robert Anderson, medical practitioner, and his wife Mary, née Kendall. She was educated at the Methodist Ladies' College, Burwood, and the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1925), where she was a director of the Women's Union and a member of its debates committee.

In 1926 Phyllis Anderson became a pathologist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, and in 1927-40 was senior resident pathologist. She became closely involved with her patients and carried out research into children's diseases such as the gastroenteritis epidemic of 1928-29, von Gierke's glycogen-accumulation disease, and diphtheria, and was a regular contributor to the Medical Journal of Australia. By 1941 she was working under the auspices of the university's department of bacteriology, where in 1945 she became a teaching fellow and later a part-time lecturer; although reserved by nature, she was popular with her students. Some of her research at the university was concerned with malaria, tuberculosis, whooping-cough, and the development of techniques for taking swabs and growing cultures. She was partly responsible for the transition of the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children into a teaching hospital.

Throughout her career Phyllis Anderson was also involved in the interests of medical women: in 1928 she was a founder of the Medical Women's Society of New South Wales; in 1935-49 she was an office-bearer and president in 1945-46. In 1938 she became a member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and a fellow in 1947. She represented medical women on the standing committee of Convocation of the University of Sydney in 1950-57 and was women's representative on the council of the State branch of the British Medical Association in 1951-54.

A lover of music and ballet, Phyllis Anderson was a member of the overseas advisory committee of the Royal Academy of Dancing. Widely read, she had 'an immense fund of kindness, sympathy and wisdom' as well as 'the habit of accuracy of thought and economy of speech'. A colleague claimed that 'many qualities contributed to the high standard of her work—a first-class intellect, scientific integrity and fierce personal honesty, human understanding, humility and a powerful sense of humour'.

She died of hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on 29 November 1957. Unmarried, she had no family in Australia. Her estate was valued for probate at £49,814; she bequeathed £47,000 to the faculty of medicine, University of Sydney, from which the Phyllis Anderson Research Fellowship was established in 1959.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1947-48, 1, 208, 1950-52, 1, 731, 1957-58, 1, 566, 1959-60, 1, 899
  • Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Annual Report, 1926, 1927, 1940, 1942, 1943
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 10 May 1958
  • Australasian Annals of Medicine, Aug 1958
  • Sydney University Gazette, Oct 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Sept 1935, 30 Nov 1957, 9 May 1958.

Citation details

Moira Scollay, 'Anderson, Phyllis Margery (1901–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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