HerStory Archive

KEATS, Margaret Gwendoline

Born: 1895

Died: 6/4/1970

Special Achievements:

Australia's first woman to qualify as a veterinarian with university training, she was also the first and only woman to graduate from Australia's first veterinary faculty (University of Melbourne).  Registered to practice in 1922, she became the first woman government-employed veterinarian when made Stock Inspector at Gonn Crossing on the Murray River, being employed by both the New South Wales and Victoria governments.

Additional Information:

Margaret Keats was born into a large, rural family of three brothers and three sisters, on "Weilmoringle" Station near Burke in western New South Wales.  Her father, Thorold Goodwin Keats, was a prominent breeder of Merino sheep and her mother was thought to be a "progressive thinker -- enterprising and innovative".  Captain Keats later became owner of "Gonn Station", on the New South Wales side of the Murray River and there Margaret and her sisters became responsible for caring for the livestock on the property.

Motivated by the wish to care better for their own stock, Margaret enrolled in the Melbourne University Veterinary School in 1918 and graduated four years later (1922) as Australia's first woman Bachelor of Veterinary Science.  She remained the only woman to graduate from the Melbourne school before its closure in the thirties.

After graduation she returned to "Gonn" Station and, as word of her knowledge of livestock ailments and their treatment spread amongst the local farming community, her practice spread beyond the property boundaries.  Eventually it was to cover 11,000 square miles of territory in north-western Victoria.  As Gonn Crossing, on the Murray, was a much used crossing point for stock travelling between New South Wales and Victoria at the time, Margaret was appointed a border Inspector of Stock in 1925, responsible for monitoring the health of travelling stock, signing movement permits and reporting to both New South Wales and Victorian governments.  In this capacity she became the first woman veterinarian to be employed in a government body in Australia.  Her niece tells of her having to be designated a Commissioner of the Supreme Court to overcome the then barrier to women becoming Justices of Peace and having the power to sign documents.

In 1935, she moved to Kerang and over the ensuing years earned the respect of farmer, and veterinary colleagues and students alike, through her dedication to the care and welfare of sick animals.  For many years she was assisted by the stockman, Fred Schramm.  Miss Keats supported the farmers in her area through the drought, grasshopper plague and depression of the thirties, the wartime restrictions on food and labour in the forties and the market fluctuations for rural produce that occurred in the fifties.  Miss Keats took on the full demands of rural practice, earning enormous respect for her skills and dedication -- and influencing veterinary colleagues and students from the Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland veterinary schools.  Her career spanned 48 years and witnessed many changes in the treatment of livestock and companion animal diseases and the entry of many more women into the veterinary profession.

In 1959 Miss Keats was awarded an Order of the British Empire - Member (Civil) for "Outstanding devotion to the care and welfare of sick and ailing animals."


Resources

  • Image - Margaret Keats

    Photo courtesy of Jill Sutherland with assistance from Dr Robin Giesecke