Black satin bodice, boned, with black faceted glass buttons down the front. High collar. Both collar and cuffs are edged with a black net ruffle. Two rows of seven black crochet-covered buttons at each cuff, fastening with loops. Stray brown threads poking through fabric around the collar, shoulders and back indicate that these areas may originally have featured lace embellishments.
This bodice belonged to Mary Crombie, an early Victorian dentist, who lived in Brighton while she was studying at the Australian College of Dentistry in the mid-1900s, and later returned to the area in her retirement from 1949-1971.
Mary Margaret Crombie (1884-1971) was born at Coan Downs Station near Walgett, northern New South Wales, where her father Henry was station manager.
After Henry’s untimely death in 1895, Mary and her mother loved for a few years with family members in St Kilda, before moving into a cottage of their own, ‘Rosewood’, at 42 Asling Street, Brighton around 1899.
From here, Mary attended Oberwyl Ladies College in St Kilda and later the Australian College of Dentistry, one of only a few women to study dental surgery at the time. She was apprenticed to Ada Tovell (1865-1932), one of Victoria’s first female dentists, who had her own practice in Collins Street.
Mary graduated in 1907 and the following year moved with he mother to Yarram in South Gippsland, where she took over the running of a practice owned by Sale dentist Charles Trood, eventually purchasing it from him in 1915.
Speaking to a Brighton newspaper in 1961, Mary said she believed that she was the first woman to start a dental practice in Gippsland. For some locals, this took a little getting used to: “Many were amazed, and had some misgivings, when they found that the local dentist was a woman,” she said. “I always remember a huge farmer (he was about 6 ft. 4 in.), who had fortified himself at the local hotel to face the ordeal of visiting the dentist. He almost turned and ran when he saw me. … He was still more amazed when I pulled out his tooth without undue trouble.” The farmer was the best advertisement she could have asked for, telling everybody about the diminutive lady dentist who had calmly extracted his tooth.
Mary practiced in Yarram until her retirement in 1949. After selling her practice she returned to Brighton, where she spent the last two decades of her life residing at 25 Oak Grove.
Following her death in 1971, her relatives in Brighton donated a number of items from her home to BHS.