Hazel Claire WEEKES, M.B.E. BSc, DSc, MBBS

1922 - 1923

Medical Practitioner, Broadcaster on Anxiety Neuroses

Dr. CLAIRE WEEKES came to College from Sydney Girls’ High School in 1922. She was awarded the Yaralla Scholarship and studied science. Her other gifts included a fine singing voice, considerable energy, and an outgoing personality which made her a popular member of the College community.

She graduated in 1926 and became a demonstrator in Zoology at the University of Sydney, where she was awarded a Maclay fellowship. In 1929 she received a Rockefeller scholarship to study at University College, London. She returned to Sydney to complete a D.Sc. thesis on Placentation amongst reptiles and its possible bearing upon the evolutionary history of mammals. She became the first woman to win a D.Sc. at Sydney University.

Weekes then resumed her pursuit of her other love – singing, studying at the NSW Conservatorium. In 1935 she again sailed for Europe – this time to continue musical training. She discovered that her voice was badly affected by climatic conditions and recognised that a career in singing was not possible.

On her return to Australia, she opened a travel agency in Sydney, and wrote a guidebook. But her fine intellect, and her own relentless energy drove her to further study.

She graduated in medicine in 1945, again with honours. She went into general practice at Bondi, but was already preparing to specialise in the treatment of nervous ills, aiming to assist those suffering from stress, phobias and anxiety. Dr Weekes was a pioneer in this field – separating anxiety states from mental illness.

In 1962 she published her book Self Help for your Nerves which was used as a text in the United States and generally in psychiatric rehabilitation centres world-wide. Like all her other works, it was subsequently published in several languages. She became famous, particularly in Britain and in the United States, for her methods of treatment of anxiety neuroses, using tapes and long playing records. She lectured on the BBC and, it was said, these talks resulted in more responses from the public than any other program of the time – 10,000 in one week. She had the rare gift of simple expression so that her teachings on nervous ills reached a wide audience. The books and tapes are still being sold. She was awarded an MBE in 1979.

Dr Claire Weekes shared the joys of life as well as learning. We were privileged to have had her among us.

An obituary published in the Women’s College Journal, 1991

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