Grace Vale was among the first group of women to study medicine at Melbourne University. An Abbotsford resident, she was a member of the prominent and talented Vale family. Grace was born in Richmond, the eldest daughter of William Mountford Kinsey Vale, stationer and later Member of Parliament, and Rachel Lennox. The family soon moved to Ballarat, returning to Melbourne in 1872 where Grace attended Gurner House School, St Kilda. The family spent the years 1874 to 1878 in London as Mr Vale had taken up an appointment there. Back in Melbourne, she studied with private tutor James Clezy to prepare for her Matriculation examinations while living in Church Street Abbotsford at Mayfield, the lovely house originally built for Georgiana McCrae, and bought by William Vale in 1886. The Vales were staunch Congregationalists and attended the Oxford Street Congregational Church.
It was only a few years since Bella Guerin had received the first Bachelor of Arts awarded to a woman by Melbourne University, amid ongoing debate about the wisdom of higher education for women. The Faculty of Medicine remained an obstacle. Finally in 1887 seven determined women enrolled, supported by their families. Grace graduated in 1894, later gaining a Bachelor of Science in 1901. Dr Vale had rooms in Collins Street until in 1896 she was invited to practise in Ballarat, the country town of her childhood.
Grace was active in many organisations and causes. She was a signatory to the Women’s Suffrage Petition and an active member of the Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society. In 1895 she attended the foundation meeting of the Victorian Medical Women’s Society, which went on to found the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Babies, the first hospital in Australia to be staffed entirely by women doctors.
In 1896 she was helping to raise funds for the Working Girls' Recreation and Improvement Club in Collingwood. The committee president was Lady Snowden, wife of Sir Arthur Snowden of St Helier’s Street Abbotsford; Grace was a vice-president along with Mrs Joseph Saddler of Marine Parade Abbotsford.
A member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she became a Companion of the Daughters of the Court along with several of her sisters. This was a women's philanthropic and cultural circle, organized by Louisa Bevan, an influential and intellectual member of the National Council of Women and wife of Llewellyn Bevan, chairman of the Congregational Union of Victoria and a leader of Protestant intellectual life in Melbourne.
Grace’s activities continued in Ballarat and were often reported in the local papers. She became a member of the Board of Advice (for local schools), presided at a meeting of the women’s branch of the Commonwealth Liberal League, and shared a platform with Vida Goldstein at a meeting to promote women’s suffrage. The arrival of war saw her teaching nursing and first aid. In 1915 she took up a government appointment in the School Medical Service in NSW.
An article in Table Talk described her thus: ‘Dr. Grace is the tallest of all the lady doctors, and commanding in appearance.’ A lovely studio photo of Grace and her four sisters can be seen on the Museum Victoria website (link below). The Vales were a remarkable family with their artistic, literary, educational, scientific and social justice interests, and seemed to be a very close-knit unit, with many of the siblings appearing together at social, community and church events. Moreover many of them shared a house for the best part of their lives. Grace had lived away from the family for many years, but in 1929 she returned to Melbourne to live her last years at 15 Ardoyne Street Black Rock with her brother William, sisters Elsie and Faith, and Faith’s husband John Collins and their children.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|37 Church Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|22 December 1933||Black Rock||Cheltenham|
Kelly, Degrees of liberation; The Argus; Fitzroy City Press; The Australasian; Mercury and Weekly Courier; Bendigo Advertiser; Table Talk.