New Zealand's first female GP

The first New Zealand-born woman to register as a doctor here, Margaret Cruickshank won immortality in the national memory for her compassionate ways and sacrificial death.

Beaten by a controversial European medic, Eliza Frikart, to the honour of first female to be licensed here as a medical practitioner, Cruickshank, four years later, in 1897, became the second. She was, however, first to become a general practitioner.

Joint dux of Otago Girls' High School with her twin sister Christina - who became principal of Wanganui Girls' Collegiate - Margaret was the second woman in New Zealand to graduate in medicine. The first was Emily Siedeberg.

After graduating, Dr Cruickshank joined a general practice in Waimate, South Canterbury. She worked there and in the town hospital for most of the rest of her life, apart from 1913-14, when she studied overseas.


She established a reputation for medical skill and social compassion, helping to break down the prejudice that existed against women practicing medicine.

But it was her selfless service and death from pneumonia induced by influenza during the 1918 flu pandemic that sealed her reputation as, in the words of a contemporary obituary, one of the country's "noblest citizens".

Already overworked because of her medical partner's absence on war service, she had thrown herself into caring for flu cases, even feeding babies and milking cows when her patients couldn't.

When a statue of Cruickshank was unveiled in Waimate in 1923, a friend, Mr C.E. Bremner, said of her work during the pandemic: "It was a time when many were apprehensive of their own safety and when fainter hearts stood aside. Not with her. Duty called and she answered its bidding with her life."