Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

Skip to content

Exhibitions

  • Where are the Women in Australian science?

Use Trove to find more resources by/about this Woman

  • Trove

Freeman, Mavis Louisa (1907 - 1992)

Born
30 January 1907
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Died
1992
Occupation
Scientist and Servicewoman

Summary

Mavis Freeman worked with Macfarlane Burnet during the 1930s and with Burnet succeeded in identifiying the microbe responsible for Q fever. She served in the Australian Army Medical Corps during World War II and undertook research into safe methods for blood transfusion in malarial regions.

Details

Mavis Louisa Freeman went from Firbank Grammar School to the University of Melbourne, where she took her BSc in 1928 and MSc on denaturation of proteins in 1950. Between the two she had led an exciting life. From 1928 until July 1940, she undertook protein research with Macfarlane Burnet at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. In 1934 she won the travelling fellowship made available by the Victorian Women Graduates' Association, which allowed her to study at the Lister Institute.

In 1937, the first time the cause of a human disease had been identified and isolated in Australia, she and Burnet succeeded in identifying the bacterium, Coxiella burnetii, responsible for Q fever which is carried by cattle, sheep, goats, rodents, cats, dogs, birds, and marsupials. It can survive harsh conditions and remain in the environment for long periods of time. People may become infected through breathing in small particles with bacteria from animal fluids. Handling birthing products and slaughtering animals pose an especially high risk. In 1940 Mavis Freeman was the lead author of a paper on testing of sera for agglutination with au emulsion of Rickettsia burneti.[1]

In 1940, Mavis Freeman became only the second female scientist to join the AIF, serving in the Australian Army Medical Corps and undertaking research into safe methods for blood transfusion in malarial regions. The Australian Women's Weekly noted that 'as there is no special uniform for women doing her work, she will wear the trim navy-blue outdoor uniform and the saxe-blue working dress of the VAD'.[2] On duty in the Middle East, she disproved the common assumption that 'desert sores' were caused by bacterial infection, showing that they could be prevented by improvements in hygiene.

The official history tells us:

She was commissioned as a lieutenant in the A.A.M.W.S. on 20th May 1942 and appointed an assistant pathologist. Promotion among assistant pathologists, male and female, was governed by the ratio of one captain to four lieutenants.[3]

After the war, she returned to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute until 1948 when she took a position in the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Research in Adelaide.

[1] M. Freeman, E.H. Derrick, H.E. Brown, D.J.W. Smith & D.W. Johnson. 'Studies in the Epidemiology of Q Fever. 5. Surveys of Human and Animal Sera for Rìckettsia burneti Agglutinins'.

Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science. v. 18 no. 3(1940): 193-200.

[2] 'Women also Serve'. Australian Women's Weekly. 30 March 1940: 39. See also 'Let's Talk of Interesting People'. Australian Women's Weekly. 21 September 1940: 2.

[3] Allan S. Walker. Australia in the War of 1939-1945. Series 5 – Medical. Volume IV - Medical Services of the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force with a section on women in the Army Medical Services. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1961. p 419.

Sources used to compile this entry: Flesch, Juliet, 40 Years 40 Women: Biographies of University of Melbourne Women, Published to Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the International Year of Women, The University of Melbourne Library, 2015;

This entry (details) is reproduced in its entirety from 40 Years 40 Women: Biographies of University of Melbourne Women with permission of Juliet Flesch and The University of Melbourne Library. Copyright remains with the author and the University of Melbourne, 2015.

Related entries

Awarded

  • Graduate Women Victoria Inc. (1922 - )

    In 1934 she won the travelling fellowship made available by the Victorian Women Graduates' Association, which allowed her to study at the Lister Institute.

Related Organisations

Rosanne Walker

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

© Copyright in The Australian Women's Register is owned by the Australian Women's Archives Project
and vested in each of the authors in respect of their contributions from 2000

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE0039b.htm

The Australian Women's Register is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

The Australian Women's Register is published quarterly by the Australian Women's Archives Project
ISSN 2207-3124