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The Story of Dagmar Berne

The difficult road of the first female medical student


Written by Dr Vanessa Witton, Sydney Medical School Foundation

Dagmar Berne was born in the New South Wales coastal town of Bega on 16 November 1866, the daughter of a Danish-born auctioneer and land owner, Frederick Berne. Her mother, Georgina Witton (who was my great great great great aunt) was born in Hobart. Dagmar’s father died during the Bega flood of 1875 and her mother Georgina remarried shortly after.

The family moved in 1876 to The Lancefield Estate at St Peters in Sydney. For several years Dagmar and the younger Berne children attended Newtown Superior Public School.

In 1882, the teenage Dagmar boarded at the exclusive Springfield Ladies’ College in Darlinghurst.The girls were taught French and other ‘accomplishments’ considered suitable to the education of young ladies in the late nineteenth century. Visiting gentlemen lecturers taught Latin and Mathematics. Chemistry, Physics and Greek were offered to boys at neighbouring schools but were not taught at girls’ schools at the time.

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