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John Oxley Library

Sister Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952)

By JOL Admin | 31 March 2011

In 1910 Eizabeth Kenny was a self-appointed nurse, working from the family home at Nobby on the Darling Downs, riding on horseback to give her services, without pay, to any who called her.

In 1911 she opened a cottage hospital in Clifton.  A bush nurse, she had no formal nursing qualifications.  She used the money she made brokering potatoes from Guyra farmers and Brisbane markets to open her first clinic and saw her first case of polio in the Clifton Hospital.

Sister Elizabeth Kenny demonstrating her therapy. John Oxley Library Image 54002.

During her recovery from a childhood fall from a horse, she developed an interest in human anatomy and became interested in how muscles worked.  In the midst of an outbreak of Infantile Paralisis on the Darling downs, Kenny saw her first Polio victim and treated the patient as instructed by a local Lodge Doctor with hot compressess and weights from woollen blankets.

Kenny worked as a nurse during WWI and after helped rehabilitate a friend's sick child.  This,  plus experience with sick and wounded men during WW I was the foundation for her later work in polio treatment and rehabilitation.  Her treatment was famously scorned by practicing physicians, notably Dr Ralph Cilento.  However, she travelled the world with her treatments which eventually became general practice for polio victims.

Kenny became a heroine in the USA and was awarded many honours. She accepted numerous invitations to lecture in other countries and received several honorary degrees.  However, she remained the centre of bitter controversy, partly because of her intolerance of opposition, and returned to Australia several times with little acclaim.

She died  of cerebro-vascular disease on 30 November 1952 and is buried near Clifton in the cemetery at Nobby.


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