Recognising women who give: The female pioneers of Lifeblood
In celebration of International Women’s Day this March, we’re recognising all the ways women have contributed to our organisation. Lifeblood would not exist without the contribution of countless women throughout history and while we could never thank them all, we would like to celebrate just a few.
From the very beginning, women have played a vital role in the establishment of blood donation in Australia, with pioneers Dr Lucy Bryce and Dr Ruth Sanger at the forefront. Dr Bryce is credited with founding the first Australian blood service, while Dr Sanger revolutionized the world’s understanding of blood groups.
Dr Bryce’s blood journey began in 1929 when she was working at the Australian Red Cross Society. As a hematologist, she was tasked with organising a group of blood donors to provide blood donations when required. From this small group, Australia’s first major blood service was born. As honorary director, Dr Bryce carried out blood grouping, laboratory testing and provided medical care for donors. Under her supervision, Australian Blood Service employed new blood storage techniques that had been created during the Spanish Civil War.
‘[Female] doctors and scientists were doing more than just running the Blood Service, they were at the forefront of international research into blood and blood transfusions.’ - Matthew Klugman
During the second world war, Dr Bryce continued to direct the Blood Service with the aid of fellow doctors, but she was not content to simply supply blood. Dr Bryce also wanted to deepen her understanding of the way our blood worked and embarked on a research project to blood type the entire defence force. Despite the military’s doubts, Dr Bryce and her team were committed, recruiting their own army of volunteers, most of whom she observed were, ‘…women graduates of medicine or science [who] had previously relinquished their professions for marriage’. Together, this army of women achieved their task with stunning success. As social historian Matthew Klugman explained in his book, Blood Matters, ‘[Female] doctors and scientists were doing more than just running the Blood Service, they were at the forefront of international research into blood and blood transfusions.’
After the second world war, Dr Ruth Sanger moved to London, where she met her future husband and fellow researcher Robert Race. Together the pair studied red blood cell antigens and published their findings in the influential book, Blood Groups in Man, which established the basis for Rh blood groups. With over 6 editions published across 30 years, the book has become a founding document for modern blood science. Dr Sanger’s interests also extended beyond blood. Much of her life was spent studying the field of genetics. In her later years, Dr Sanger played a vital role in the genetic mapping of the human X chromosome, which was somewhat fitting for such an influential woman in science.
The work Dr Sanger and Dr Bryce achieve was truly groundbreaking, and while not all of us will become pioneers in the field of hematology, there are other ways we can help – like giving blood. Donating blood is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and if you donate this March, you’ll get a limited-edition bandage designed by Aussie Icon Jenny Kee to celebrate International Women’s Day.