Dame Mary Herring Centre

Dame Mary Herring Centre, 387 Neerim Road, Carnegie 3163

“Mary Ranken Herring (1895 – 1981) was born on 31 March 1895 at Carlton, Melbourne. She studied at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1921), graduating with first-class honours and several prizes in medicine, winning Blues in hockey and tennis and serving on the Students’ Representative Council. Her internship at the (Royal) Women’s Hospital shaped a commitment to advance women’s and children’s welfare.

In 1926 she established a clinic providing [ante-natal care] at the Prahran Health Centre. One day each week until 1945 she treated impoverished women, many with debilitating illnesses, who struggled to survive in sub-standard conditions, often worked throughout their pregnancy to provide for their families, and experienced high rates of maternal mortality.

Galvanised by this exposure, and her long association with the Melbourne District Nursing Society (vice-president, 1943-53), in 1934 Dr Herring joined George Simpson and Victor Wallacein opening the Women’s Welfare Clinic. Against opposition from some in the medical fraternity and conservative sections of society, she pioneered family planning services. While in her later years concerned that access to birth control had resulted in promiscuity, she maintained that, in the straitened circumstances of the 1930s, this assistance was vital for women who had no other access to medical care.

With the outbreak of World War II, Mary Herring was active in the formation of the AIF Women’s Association to assist women while their husbands, sons and brothers fought overseas. [Later], Lady Herring put aside medical practice and assumed a wide range of official posts including those of founding president of the Victorian Council of Social Service, chairman of the Scantlebury Brown Memorial Trust, and deputy-president of the Victorian division of the Australian Red Cross Society and of the Victoria League. President of Toorak College council and of the Australian council of the Save the Children Fund, she was a tireless worker and patron for many charities, with particular interests in spastic and handicapped children, child-care organisations and amateur sporting organisations for girls and women. She was a member of the Lyceum and Alexandra clubs.

The Argus in 1949 described Lady Herring as an outstanding example of `selfless devotion to the service of others’: `calm, kindly, clear-minded, and intensely logical’. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of St John in 1953 and DBE in 1960. Dame Mary died on 26 October 1981 at Camberwell, Melbourne, predeceasing her husband by ten weeks, and survived by their daughters.”1

Australian Dictionary of Biography 1