Skip to content

By Maddi McTavish, former Junior Girl, Girl Museum

In the 1890s, New Zealand schools made progress towards equality by allowing young New Zealand women to have access to scientific areas of study. One of the women to benefit from this was a trailblazing young doctor who worked almost exclusively in the Waimate region. Waimate Museum and Archives shares the remarkable story of her life.

Margaret Cruickshank came from a family of hardships. With her mother’s passing in her early life, Margaret and her twin sister Christina were left to look after their five younger siblings. One twin would stay at home to look after everyone while the other would attend classes that day and would come home to tell the other what things they had learned, alternating roles between each other.

Mrs Cruickshank and three daughters, shared from the Waimate Museum collection

Mrs George Cruickshank and three daughters. (L) Isabella, (Standing) Christina, (Kneeling) Margaret. From the Waimate Museum collection (BY-NC-ND)

Margaret blossomed within her school life, becoming a joint dux alongside her sister. Supported by her family and the teachers from Otago Girls’, Margaret entered into medical studies at Otago University; a year after fellow Otago Girl’s student, Emily Siedeberg. Margaret graduated with official registration as a practitioner in 1897 and then settled in the town of Waimate working in partnership with Dr. H. C. Barclay at a private hospital established to provide medical, surgical, and maternity care.

Trailblazing a pathway to practice

In 1913, Margaret took a year’s leave to extend her studies in London, Dublin and Edinburgh. The Waimate community gifted her a gold watch on the eve of her departure.

Dr Barclay was shipped off during the First World War to help with relief efforts. In his absence, Margaret acted as the head of the Waimate practice and one of three doctors acting as the Hospital’s Superintendent.

During 1918 and at the very end of New Zealand’s involvement in the war, the country succumbed to a severe Influenza A pandemic. The virus was thought to have travelled with those coming back from service in the war. It became the worst pandemic that New Zealand has ever faced, with the death toll thought to be around 9000. Amongst the many civilian deaths, the disease claimed the lives of 14 doctors throughout the country, including Margaret. She died at the age of 45.

Seated and standing people watching a ceremony to unveil a memorial statue of Dr Margaret Cruickshank.

Dr Cruickshank memorial unveiling. From the Waimate Museum collection (BY-NC-ND)

What Margaret left behind was a legacy. In her honour, the community of Waimate erected a memorial statue to remember her tireless efforts to support those around her and the responsibilities of her district, regardless of her own health. As well as becoming a tribute to those who lost their lives during the pandemic, the inscription on the statue reads, ‘The Beloved Physician/Faithful unto Death’, proving the butterfly effect she had on the community of Waimate.

Portraits of a beloved physician

Dr Cruickshank’s story was originally shared in the Kiwi Chicks: New Zealand Girl History | Ngā Kōhine Kiwi: He Hītori Taitamāhine o Aotearoa online exhibition, and is republished on Kōtuia with permission.


NZ Herald. New Zealand’s first registered woman doctor was involved in illegal abortion trade. (2018) Retrieved from:

NZ History (Ministry of Culture and Heritage). The 1918 flu pandemic. (Updated 26-Jan-2018) Retrieved from: URL:

NZ Journal of History (NZJH). A Subtle Containment: Women in New Zealand Medicine, 1893-1941. (1988) Retrieved from:

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Cruickshank, Margaret Barnet. (2016) Retrieved from:

University of Otago. A Statue of Merit: Dr. Margaret Cruickshank and the 1918 influenza pandemic. (2017) Retrieved from: