Lady Cilento

The opening of the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in South Brisbane on 29 November gives us reason to look at the extraordinary life and achievements of this great lady.

Phyllis Dorothy McGlew was born in Sydney on 13 March 1894. When she was young, her family moved to Adelaide, where she studied medicine, graduating in 1918. She worked at the Adelaide Hospital before travelling to Britain and working in the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street in London. She returned to Adelaide in 1920 to marry Dr Raphael Cilento, who was knighted in 1935 in recognition of his work in epidemiology in tropical disease. The couple worked in the Malay States, Townsville and New Guinea, before settling in Brisbane in 1928.

Lady Phyllis Cilento, 1918. State Library of Queensland.

Lady Phyllis Cilento, 1918. State Library of Queensland.

Between 1931 and 1938, Phyllis worked at the Hospital for Sick Children (now the Royal Children’s Hospital) in Herston. She then ran a general practice, specialising in the health of mothers and children, while raising her six children. She wrote 24 books, many articles, and regular columns for newspapers and magazines under the name “Medical Mother” and “Mother M.D.” She promoted the use of vitamins, and was an advocate for natural childbirth, family planning, and having fathers present at the birth of their children – advanced ideas that were seen by some at the time as unorthodox. After her husband’s death in 1985, she continued in private practice in Toowong until the early 1980s. She died on 26 July 1987.

Lady Phyllis Cilento, July 1942. State Library of Queensland.

Lady Phyllis Cilento, July 1942. State Library of Queensland.

Lady Cilento, affectionately called “Lady C”, was involved in several organisations, was president of the Queensland Medical Women’s Society in 1929, and founded the Mothercraft Association of Queensland in 1931. She was the first Queensland Mother of the Year, the first Queenslander of the Year, and a Fellow of the International Academy of Preventative Medicine. Given her contributions to the health of mothers and children in Queensland, it is a fitting tribute that our new children’s hospital bears her name.

Sir Raphael and Lady Phyllis Cilento, January 1949. State Library of Queensland.

Sir Raphael and Lady Phyllis Cilento, January 1949. State Library of Queensland.

State Library of Queensland holds many items that relate to Lady Cilento’s life and work, including her notebook from around 1981, which contains notes, copies of letters and speeches. Our collection also contains Lady Cilento’s published books, including My Life (her autobiography published in the year of her death), A Code for teenagers and their parents, The Cilento way, Lady Cilento on vitamin and mineral deficiencies, Vitamins and you, You don’t have to live with: Chronic ill health, Medical mother, Enjoy your family: A guide for parenthood and Square meals for the family.

Sir Raphael and Lady Phyllis Cilento. State Library of Queensland.

Sir Raphael and Lady Phyllis Cilento. State Library of Queensland.

These items can be located through our One Search catalogue.