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Apr 18, 2009

Elizabeth Kenny

Staff Nurse Elizabeth Kenny, better known as 'Sister Kenny'  (1880-1952), was born 20 September 1880, Warialda, NSW. Kenny began her career as a bush nurse in rural Australia, where she encountered her first cases of infantile paralysis (polio), and developed her own treatment methods by stimulating and re-educating the affected muscles, rather than immobilizing patients with splints and casts.
During WW1 she enlisted as a nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AAN, serving on hospital ships that brought home the wounded. In 1917 she was promoted to the rank of Sister, a title she used for the rest of her life. Army service for Kenny terminated in March 1919.
Returning to civilian nursing after the war, Kenny established four clinics to treat polio and cerebral palsy patients using her own methods. In Sydney 1937 she published *Infantile Paralysis and Cerebral Diplegia, with a foreword by Herbert Wilkinson, professor of anatomy at the University of Queensland.
Grateful parents having paid her fare to England, she was given two wards at Queen Mary's Hospital at Carshalton, Surrey. She shocked English doctors with her recommendations to discard splinting used to prevent deformities and her condemnation of the orthodox treatment of poliomyelitis cases. Returning to Australia, she was greeted with the report of a royal commission of leading Queensland doctors which damned her methods. However, she was given a ward at the Brisbane General Hospital and early cases of the disease to treat. Aubrey Pye, medical superintendent, stated that her patients recovered more quickly and that their limbs were more supple than those treated by the orthodox method. But the medical profession largely ignored her.

In 1940 she travelled to the United States, where she demonstrated her techniques during the height of the polio epidemic, and eventually gained widespread recognition. The Elizabeth Kenny Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was set up in 1943 to train nurses and physiotherapists in her methods. Her celebrity status was confirmed when a movie was made of Sister Kenny's life, starring Rosalind Russell, 1946. Tagline: "A woman made for love . . . but whose service to humanity became her destiny!"
After decades of tireless medical work, fundraising and lobbying, Kenny returned to Australia. She developed Parkinson's disease in 1952 and died in Toowoomba the same year.
Her book 'My Battle and Victory' was published posthumously.
Digger History: 'Hall of Heroes' index
-- film: "Sister Kenny" 1946
Aus' Dictionary of Biography
--And They Shall Walk: The Life Story of Sister Elizabeth Kenny by Martha Ostenso (1943) written in collaboration with Sister Elizabeth Kenny
National Library of Australia: has available * writings by Elizabeth Kenny

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Posted: Apr 18, 2009 7:19pm


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Jenny Dooley
, 3, 2 children
Eastlakes, SW, Australia
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