Burial register ID: 693
First name: EMILY
Middle names: HANCOCK
Gender: Female
Age: 95 Years
Cause of death: Unknown
Burial type:
Date of death: 13-Jun-1968
Date of burial: 17-Jun-1968

Block: 161
Plot: 3

Bio contributor: Amanda Kennedy

Emily McKinnon née Siedeberg (1873-1968)

Emily Siedeberg was New Zealand’s first woman medical graduate, in 1896, and was a woman doctor in a time when ‘Lady Doctors’ battled for acceptance. A lot of people thought of them as ‘superior nurses’ or ‘not quite a doctor’. Even other women preferred real (male) doctors to lady doctors. It was Emily Siedeberg’s father who decided that she would become a doctor. The child Emily imagined ‘it would be a grand life to drive around all day in a carriage and visit people in their homes’.

Emily had been a pupil at Otago Girls’ High School before she became the first woman student to enter the Otago Medical School, in 1891. There were no official obstacles to her studying at the university of Otago from the authorities. However, the male students showed their disapproval in the dissecting room, when they ‘would throw flesh at her every chance they got’. But Emily shrugged off these incidents, saying it happened only once, and was only a small piece of flesh. Some lectures Emily wasn’t allowed to attend with the male students, and had to have them delivered to her alone: these were usually on sexual anatomy.

Emily was fortunate, because in 1898 her father, a successful architect, provided her with a house, enabling her to set up a practice which she maintained for the next 30 years. She gained a reputation for answering calls in any weather. However, for women doctors who followed Emily, it was more difficult to set up in practice due to public prejudice. People thought women doctors were unstable and ‘at the mercy of their nerves’. It was thought that a woman doctor should only care for women and children. This attitude clearly influenced Emily’s career. Few of Emily’s patients were men.

Women’s health was Emily’s main focus. She was medical superintendent of St Helen’s Maternity Hospital from its opening in 1905 until it closed in 1938. With her lifelong friend, matron Alice Holford, she struggled against the opposition by other doctors to the hospital’s work and established its reputation for successful midwifery. She was also medical officer at the Caversham Industrial School for wayward children from 1907 until 1930. It could have been the first time that the children saw a woman doctor. Among her achievements was the opening of New Zealand’s first antenatal clinic in 1918.

Emily advocated for the raising of the age of consent and strong measures to prevent venereal disease. She also advocated for the appointment of women police, hospital and factory inspections, and equal opportunities for women in higher education and employment. However, in some ways Emily remained a woman of the Victorian era: she believed in capital punishment and eugenics, and also thought that girls should be taught domestic skills to prepare for motherhood.

Yet Emily herself didn’t marry young or have children, perhaps so she could fully focus on her career. When she was 55, she married Alexander McKinnon, a retired banker. She then retired from private medical practice, but continued to work for St Helen’s until it was replaced by Queen Mary’s in 1938.

Emily was made an honorary member of the New Zealand branch of the British Medical Association in 1929 and of the NZ Registered Nurses Association in 1939. She was awarded the King’s Jubilee Medal in 1935 and made a CBE in 1949. Emily died in Oamaru 20 years after her husband. She was 95 years old.

— See: Sargison, Patricia A. ‘Siedeberg, Emily Hancock 1873 – 1968’. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

— Other burials recorded at this site:
Franz SIEDEBERG d. 1902,
Henry SIEDEBERG d. 1913,
Ann SIEDEBERG d. 1923,
Isabella SIEDEBERG d. 1937,
and Henry SIEDEBERG d. 1945.

Emily McKinnon née Siedeberg
Source: Otago Settlers Museum

There are 7 Interments in this grave:

Surname First names Age Date of death Date of burial
MCKINNON EMILY HANCOCK 95 Years 13-Jun-1968 17-Jun-1968
SIEDEBERG ANN DALY 88 Years 25-Feb-1923 27-Feb-1923
SIEDEBERG EMILY HANCOCK 95 Years 13-Jun-1968 17-Jun-1968
SIEDEBERG FRANZ DAVID 75 Years 12-Sep-1902 14-Sep-1902
SIEDEBERG HENRY GEORGE 65 Years 21-May-1945 23-May-1945
SIEDEBERG HENRY V 4 Months 13-Jan-1913 14-Jan-1913
SIEDEBERG ISABELLA MARY 66 Years 16-Dec-1937 20-Dec-1937