Elizabeth Horne Bain BRYSON
Elizabeth Bryson was one of many short-term residents of Horowhenua who made a precious contribution to the district while here. She settled in Levin in 1918 when she married one of the town’s first doctors, Dr Robert Bryson who had a practice in Durham Street. Eight years later, the pair left to further their medical careers in Wellington and, for Elizabeth, also back in the United Kingdom.
Her arrival in Levin was highly serendipitous as it coincided with the devastating onset of the 1918 worldwide influenza epidemic, which would kill 9,000 people in New Zealand in just two months. A qualified doctor herself, Elizabeth was able to take over her new husband’s workload when he was struck down by the illness, with “no other doctor standing for miles around”. She made a public address in the main street to an anxious gathering, urging them to pick up disinfectants for free from the chemists, thoroughly wash down every item in their homes, and confine any unwell person to bed until she could visit them. She had never had to ‘pull her weight’ in medical practice to this extent before.
She went on the present lectures on hygiene at the District High School and was vice President of the Levin Branch of the Workers’ Educational Association in 1920.
Elizabeth (MacDonald) had been born in 1880 into a large, poor family in Dundee, Scotland. But that didn’t prevent her outstanding abilities to study, organise, and recognise the critical importance of women’s health from coming to the fore.
She emigrated to New Zealand not long after graduating as a doctor from the University of St Andrews in 1907 but, being a woman, unable to secure a position in a Scottish hospital.
Their loss was this country’s gain – she lobbied government for the introduction of physical education into schools, she was prominent in the newly-formed League of Mothers that promoted Christian values in the upbringing of children, she studied and practised an emerging psychosomatic approach to women’s health, she made broadcasts on nutrition for the Health Department, and she wrote at least three books.
Both of Elizabeth and Robert’s children, born in Levin, also became doctors, with William running the Plimmerton Medical Centre, north of Wellington, for 35 years.
Dr Elizabeth Bryson died in London in 1969 at the grand age of 89.