Leading the way

Remembering a pioneer of teaching and lifelong learning at UQ

A historical photograph of a group of female students outside a stone building

Students entering the Great Hall at The University of Sydney for examinations circa 1917. Image: University of Sydney Archives G3_224_0894

Students entering the Great Hall at The University of Sydney for examinations circa 1917. Image: University of Sydney Archives G3_224_0894

Dr Ellice E.P. Dart became a doctor and medical educator at a time when women were rare in both fields in Australia.

The first woman employed by the University of Queensland’s fledgling Faculty of Medicine in 1936, she is being remembered in 2022 for her dedication to teaching and learning.

Dr Dart had a particular interest in literacy for people who are blind and in Brisbane, a Braille House publication has been renamed in her honour.

Emeritus Professor John Pearn, the official historian of the UQ Faculty of Medicine, says Dr Dart (nee Hamilton) was an outstanding person.

“Dr Dart holds a special place as the first woman in the faculty,” Emeritus Professor Pearn said.

“She was a demonstrator in the School of Physiology when it opened its doors in 1936 and there were only three women among the first cohort of 72 students.

“Dr Dart taught an extensive course involving 10 practical lessons each of about three hours in a building in William Street in the city.

“She had an exceptional background in both science and community service and came to the role at UQ with experience as a teacher in Sydney.”

A black-and-white photograph of Dr Ellice Dart's head and shoulders. She has a neutral expression on her face.

Dr Ellice Dart circa 1925. Image: supplied

Dr Ellice Dart circa 1925. Image: supplied

Laboratory benches with sinks and water spouts

UQ Faculty of Medicine pathology laboratory 1939. Image: UQ Archives S178 b185

UQ Faculty of Medicine pathology laboratory 1939. Image: UQ Archives S178 b185

woman sits in a wicker chair reading a book

Photograph submitted to the Medical Board of New South Wales in 1922 with the application from Ellice Ettie Peden Hamilton for registration as a medical practitioner. Image: NSW State Archives NRS-9873-1-[2/758A]-R4257

Photograph submitted to the Medical Board of New South Wales in 1922 with the application from Ellice Ettie Peden Hamilton for registration as a medical practitioner. Image: NSW State Archives NRS-9873-1-[2/758A]-R4257

Dr Dart moved to Brisbane in 1925 with her husband, Dr John Leslie Dart, also a medical practitioner.

She had graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Science (1915), a Bachelor of Arts (1917) and a Bachelor of Medicine (1922). 

“She was actually appointed lecturer in physiology in the University of Sydney in 1922 while she was an undergraduate in the medical school, but she had already graduated in science,” Emeritus Professor Pearn said.

"Prior to that she'd been a demonstrator in chemistry at the University and the Sydney Teachers' College.

“Among many other things she was very interested in the components of human milk, chemistry and biochemistry studies.”

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of people sitting and standing in rows in front of a sandstone building. All of the people except for one woman, Dr Ellice Dart, are men wearing suits.

UQ Faculty of Medicine first class October 1936. Image: UQ Archives S177

UQ Faculty of Medicine first class October 1936. Image: UQ Archives S177

At UQ, Dr Dart was a contemporary and friend of the university’s first blind graduate, Mercy Dickinson, who wrote in her memoir, As I’ve Seen It, of her frustration at arriving to study in 1937 and finding a lack of braille textbooks.

Volunteer readers stepped in to assist while transcribers at the Queensland Braille Writing Association got to work and by 1938, she writes, the supply of books was “steady and unfailing” thanks to the “unflagging efforts of its volunteers”.

An old Perkins Brailler typer

A Perkins Brailler

A Perkins Brailler

Dr Dart taught herself braille during this time and began what would become a commitment over many years volunteering to transcribe texts for the not-for-profit organisation that is now known as Braille House.

Current Braille House General Manager Richard Barker said the transcription was done using a six-keyed Perkins Brailler machine to punch the patterns of raised dots into thick paper.

“Dr Dart was particularly interested in and transcribed children’s books and educational materials, some of which are still in our collection and lending library,” Mr Barker said.

Two pages of a magazine written in braille. A white page, which has a sticker reading 'Dr Elllice Dart In Touch Magazine' on it, is resting on the open magazine

The 38th edition of the Dr Ellice Dart In Touch Magazine published by Braille House.

The 38th edition of the Dr Ellice Dart In Touch Magazine published by Braille House.

Dr Dart’s support is ongoing through a trust fund established after her death in 1981.

Her work and generosity have been honoured in 2022 with the renaming of the Braille House magazine. Now called The Ellice Dart In Touch Magazine, this braille publication is compiled quarterly and circulated internationally.

An old black-and-white photo of several long wooden tables with chairs in a large room.

The University of Queensland Herston library 1938. Image: UQ Archives S178 b183

The University of Queensland Herston library 1938. Image: UQ Archives S178 b183

An old newspaper clipping about Dr Ellice Dart's appointment as president of the Brisbane Women's Club.

Image: The Courier-Mail 16 November 1939

Image: The Courier-Mail 16 November 1939

Dr Dart’s community involvement reflected her interest in nutrition as well as education.

After becoming the president of the Brisbane Women’s Club in November 1939, she was quoted in the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper describing the club’s activities as educational as well as social with a lecture held every fortnight. 

“Declaring that people did not eat enough uncooked fruit and vegetables, Dr Dart spoke on diet and nutrition at a morning tea at the Brisbane Women’s Club…” reported The Courier-Mail in Brisbane in July 1940.

In a column written for the Queensland Country Life in December 1941, titled The Education of the Adolescent Girl, Dr Dart advocated for “due time for relaxation” for growing girls, as well as mathematics and science courses alongside domestic skills and sex education. 

There are few pictures of Dr Dart to be found but the Ellice E.P. Hamilton Collection of images is held by The University of Sydney's Chau Chak Wing Museum.

The collection is 500 black and white photographs that she took during her student days from 1910 to 1920 documenting the excursions and events of campus life during the years of World War 1.

Her grandson, Dr Philip Dart, recalls she photographed everyday life, something that was not well documented at the time.

“She photographed workers protesting, picnics, university excursions and activities,” he said.

Buy a Gold Cross Day 1915 photograph taken at The University of Sydney by E. Hamilton. Image: Chau Chak Wing Museum, HP87.19.181

A tiger on a forest-covered mountain. Other tree-covered mountains are visible in the background.
Dr Ellice Dart as an older woman with grey hair and glasses. She is posing for a professional photograph.

Dr Ellice Dart September 1956. Image: Supplied

Dr Ellice Dart September 1956. Image: Supplied

“Over time, I've come to realise how unusual my grandmother was, and how broad her activities and interests were," Dr Philip Dart said.

“My brother and I lived with her for about six months when we were boys in the late 1960s.

“I remember her as being very strong-willed, almost single-minded and when you think about it, how could she not have been to do all the things she did in that period as a woman?”

Dr Ellice Dart and her husband had three children and one followed them into medicine, Dr Clive Dart who was a UQ alum. 

Two of her grandchildren, also UQ alum, became academics. Dr Philip Dart in the School of Computing and Information Systems at The University of Melbourne and Professor Andrew Dart in the School of Veterinary Science at The University of Sydney.

Media: UQ Communications, communications@phillycheckpoint.com, +61 (0)429 056 139.