One of the doctors at Mont Park in the 1920s and 1930s was Dr Bertha Wood (1888 – 1942). She was the third daughter and tenth child of Edward and Sarah Wood. Her father died on 1904 (aged 60 years) and her mother died in 1918 (aged 71 years).
Of her seven brothers, two enlisted as soldiers in WWI and both returned to Australia but had suffered very serious injuries. Her brother Norman Mackenzie (Harry) Wood (b. 1885) died in 1919, and Samuel Arthur (b. 1873) lived on, but with a very significant abdominal bullet wound.
There were not many women doctors in the 1920s in Melbourne, and very few women doctors were appointed to mental asylums.
In 1909 Bertha was living with her mother, her sister Edith and her brother William and his wife Ethel in Abbott St Sandringham. They moved to live in Hampton during WWI. Bertha had graduated from The University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1910. From 1911 to 1918, she tutored at The University of Melbourne in botany and physics, and began studying Medicine.
Dr Wood’s career at Mont Park
Bertha Wood graduated Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in May 1921, interestingly in the same cohort as Dr John Springfield’s son, Guy Springthorpe. Bertha Wood is missing from their graduation photograph.
Dr Wood was mentioned in the Argus newspaper in 1923 when doctors were reported as quelling an incident at Mont Park Hospital. It appears that Dr Wood from the female section of the institution and Dr Catarinich were summoned, when an attendant was struck by a patient on the evening of Saturday 15th December. The attendant subsequently died.
Bertha was nominated as a member of the Melbourne Lyceum Club from 1925. This Club was limited to women who were university graduates or had distinguished themselves in the arts or community service. Bertha lived in the Doctor’s Quarters on the Hospital site at Mont Park for at least ten years from 1927.
Dr Wood is mentioned in Parliamentary Papers in 1932 as assisting Professor Woodruff from the University of Melbourne with serological research related to malarial treatment at Mont Park.
She seems to have been well liked by the female patients with records of some of them writing to her when they were released from the Mont Park hospitals.
She had an unusual and controversial theory about the role of physical appearance in mental illness for some women – her idea being that deformities or severe blemishes contributed to psychiatric disturbances. The Mercury (Hobart) newspaper reported on this idea in 1940.
Dr Bertha Wood died in 1942, aged 54 years only, and had worked finally at Sunbury Mental Hospital as well as Mont Park. From an In Memorium in The Argus 1943 it appears that she was survived by four of her siblings.
Parents of Bertha Wood were:
Edward WOOD b. 1844 d. 1904
Sarah Maria HAY(I)NES b. 1847 d. 1918
Siblings of Bertha Wood were:
Sara Birnie/Bernie b. 1866 d. 1954 – m. 1884 – to Arthur Tunnacliffe BROWN b. 1867 (son b. 1892 Arthur Charles / son b. 1902 Eric Edward)
Archer John b. 1868 d. 1944
Edward b. 1869 d.?
Samuel Arthur b. 1873 Injured WWI d. ?
Clifton Phil(l)ip b. 1875 d. 1945 – m. 1918 – to Elsie Maud M(A)C(K)DONALD d. 1965
Edith Margaret b. 1877 d. 1962
William Herbert b. 1879 d. ? – m. 1906 – to Ethel May MONTGOMERY b. 1880
Kenneth Leslie b. 1883 d. 1908
Norman Mackenzie b. 1885 Injured WWI d. 1919
Bertha b. 1888 d. 1942
Unfortunately we have no photograph of Dr Bertha Wood, but someone from her extended family may be able to assist us with that.
Thanks to the Archivists at the Melbourne Lyceum Club for help with information for this Biography.
By Kathy Andrewartha
2018, updated 2021.
In Memorium placed by Bertha’s family in 1943 – 14 Jan 1943 – Family Notices – Trove (nla.gov.au)
Mont Park Tragedy. Attendant’s Death https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/1988951
New Angle on Mental Disease https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/25817058?
Watts, A. (2015) Maternal insanity in Victoria, Australia: 1920 – 1973. Ph. D. Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.