Elizabeth Kenny was born in Warialda, N.S.W. on 20 September, 1880. At age 9 her family moved to the Clifton district and later to the Nobby district. When she was 18, Ms Kenny began training as a nurse in Sydney, but before completing her training, she returned to the Downs where she opened a small hospital at Clifton.

This was where she treated her first polio victim. While doctors immobilised the paralysed muscle in a cast or splint, Sister Kenny treated the limb with powerful massage and heat packs to keep it mobile. Sister Kenny enlisted in the AIF as a nurse when war broke out and was appointed a sister on 1 November, 1917.

She returned to Australia in 1919 after having been wounded, receiving a British War Medal for her services. Back in Australia Sister Kenny became involved in the life of the community, being responsible for the formation of the Nobby CWA and became its first president in 1925.

In 1926 Sister Kenny invented the Sylvia stretcher to be used in the transport of accident cases to reduce shock. It was patented and sold in many countries. In the same year Sister Kenny adopted Mary Stewart who later became one of her most significant therapists.

Clinics for the treatment of polio victims were opened in Townsville, Brisbane & Toowoomba. Although her unorthodox treatments for polio often brought her into conflict with the medical profession in Australia, Sister Kenny won acclaim in the U.S. where the Kenny Foundation for the treatment of infantile paralysis was set up in Minneapolis & other clinics were opened.

In 1951 Elizabeth Kenny was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and returned to Australia where she lived in Toowoomba until her death on 30 November, 1952. She is buried in Nobby cemetery.


LH files – LH/Kenny, Elizabeth
Wallace, Elizabeth – “A tribute to Sister Elizabeth Kenny” 1950.