Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, a great time to reflect on the role of women in the development of physiotherapy. Australian physiotherapy originated from the UK, and elements of physiotherapy can be traced back to ancient China, Greece, and Rome. In the 1800’s, a group of female masseurs established themselves as the Society of Trained Masseuse (STM). All the founders of STM had ties to the suffrage movement. One of the founders, Rosaline Paget, was a close friend of Florence Nightingale.

For the first 75 years of the profession, physiotherapists worked under the direction of medical practitioners. The first official education program for Physiotherapists in Australia (initially called a massage course) started in Victoria in 1906. Students were mainly women, with education overseen by medical doctors and anatomists (mostly men). As the number of qualified women increased, women gradually took over roles in education. These extremely dedicated and passionate women received poor remuneration and often worked in cramped conditions.

Key Dates for Physiotherapy Education in Australia

  • 1800s – a group of women masseurs established themselves as the Society of Trained Masseuse (STM).
  • 1906 – First official education program for physiotherapy opens in Victoria (called a massage course).
  • 1933 – 3 year course introduced in Victoria, and all subsequent programs extended to 3 years.
  • 1938 – University of Queensland granted approval for a Diploma of Physiotherapy.
  • 1951- University of Queensland offers degree programs for physiotherapy.
  • 1973 – Margaret Bullock graduates with a PhD in physiotherapy, the first in the world.
  • 1978 – Margaret Bullock becomes Australia’s first professor of physiotherapy.
  • 1990 – First postgraduate Masters Degree offered at the University of Queensland.
  • 1998 – First Professional Doctorate in Physiotherapy program offered by LaTrobe University.

Notable women in physiotherapy in Australia

Margaret Bullock – Margaret Bullock, obtained the first PhD in physiotherapy in the world, and was Australia’s first professor of physiotherapy in 1978. Margaret held the position as Head of the Department of Physiotherapy at UQ from 1973 – 1987. She was the Deputy President and President of the UQ Academic Board from 1986 to 1990.

Margaret Peel – first President of the Australian Physiotherapy Association elected 50 years ago. Margaret led the physiotherapy profession away from its medical patronage heritage, and built its foundations as an independent profession.

Janet Carr and Roberta Shepherd– Carr and Shepherd were instrumental in helping the physiotherapy profession move towards evidence-based assessment and treatment. Carr and Shepherd have a focus on neurological physiotherapy, and have authored/edited 13 books from 1976 to 2010. These booked have been translated into most European languages and many Asian languages.

This just scratches the surface of the role women have played in the development of the profession and continued commitment to advancing the practice of physiotherapy.

Happy Women’s History Month!

From Neve (content writer), Bek, Kira, Janice, Samantha, Indi and Amanda.