Far from the comfort of her privileged childhood in Sydney, Catherine Hamlin devoted her life to helping African women overcome debilitating birth injuries.
For 60 years, Dr Hamlin lived in Ethiopia where she and her husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, established clinics to help the nation’s desperately poor women overcome obstetric fistulas suffered in childbirth.
Her biographer John Little described her as a “marvel” and quoted The New York Times which wrote “Dr Hamlin is the new Mother Teresa of our age.”
The woman also often described as a living saint died on Wednesday at her home in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, aged 96.
Born Elinor Catherine Nicholson in Sydney on January 24, 1924, she grew up as one of six children in suburban Ryde and was educated at Frensham girls’ boarding school in Mittagong, NSW.
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Catherine and Reg Hamlin travelled to Ethiopia for the first time over 60 years ago, and initially only planned to stay for three years. On the evening of their arrival in Ethiopia, a fellow gynaecologist told them, “The fistula patients will break your hearts.” And they did. Since then, you and many others have helped women in Ethiopia get their lives back. Discover more and make a difference | Link in Bio . . . #EradicatingFistulaForever #drcatherinehamlin #catherinehamlin #endfistula #charityappeal #eradicatefistulaforever #empoweredtoempower #womensdevelopment #womenshealth #holisticcare #holistichealthcare #womeninstem #womeninmedicine #pioneeringwomen #inspiringaustralians #womensupportingwomen #charity #inspiringstories #ethiopia #ethiopianwomen
In an interview with ABC television in 2008, the obstetrician and gynaecologist described her childhood as “privileged”, living in a large, convict-built house with servants.
After graduating in medicine from the University of Sydney in 1946, she met Reg Hamlin while both were working at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney.
He was 15 years her senior and her superintendent. She said their relationship developed while he helped train her to do difficult deliveries and he proposed to her while in his office, from the other side of his desk.
After marrying and moving to Adelaide’s Queen Victoria Hospital for some years, the couple saw an advertisement to establish a midwifery school in Ethiopia in 1959.
It was there they encountered patients suffering obstetric fistula, a birthing injury virtually unknown in the developed world.
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Dr Catherine Hamlin has dedicated 61 YEARS of her life to fighting the STIGMA and SUFFERING that Ethiopian women with OBSTETRIC FISTULA have to face. “I’m still trying to wake the world up and tell people about the women we treat. It warms my heart that so many people have supported our work,” – Dr Catherine Hamlin. Her dream to ERADICATE OBSTETRIC FISTULA Forever won’t happen in her lifetime, but it can in yours! Read the wonderful article written by Aurora Prize of how one trip to Ethiopia changed the lives of more than 60,000 women on on our website via the link in the bio. . . . #EradicatingFistulaForever #drcatherinehamlin #catherinehamlin #endfistula #fundregionalhospitals #charityappeal #eradicatefistulaforever #empoweredtoempower #womensdevelopment #womenshealth #holisticcare #holistichealthcare #womeninstem #womeninmedicine #pioneeringwomen #inspiringaustralians #womensupportingwomen #charity #inspiringstories #ethiopia #ethiopianwomen
It occurs during lengthy labour, when a hole forms in a woman’s bladder or bowel that causes incontinence and requires surgery.
Dr Hamlin co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which has treated the fistula injuries of more than 50,000 women.
Her fundraising efforts for the hospital led her to speak all over the world, including an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, after which the host personally donated $US500,000 and three million new donors contributed to Dr Hamlin’s work.
She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1983 for her services to gynaecology in developing countries, and in 1995 was promoted to the grade of Companion of the Order of Australia.
After the death of her husband in 1993 she wrote a book about her experiences in Ethiopia, The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope with Little’s help.
Little later wrote his own book about her, Catherine’s Gift, which was published in 2008.
Dr Hamlin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, and again in 2014.
The Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia charity was created in 2012 at the request of the Australian doctor to raise funds for a number of medical centres, including her hospital.
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In loving memory, Dr Catherine Hamlin AC, 1924 – 2020 It is with great sadness that we are writing this post. Dr Catherine Hamlin, co-founder of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, passed away peacefully at her home on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia on Wednesday March 18th, 2020. She was 96 years old. It is a very sad time for those who knew Catherine – her family, her patients, her colleagues and her thousands of supporters around the world. In this time of sorrow, we reflect upon her life and celebrate it for what it was: a gift to some of the world’s most vulnerable women. Catherine was always grateful to those who supported her dream of eradicating obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. Thank you for being part of our community. Without you, Catherine’s incredible life's work would not have been possible. Team Hamlin ❤️ You can read our full obituary and leave a tribute message for Catherine via link in bio. . . . . . #ThankyouCatherine #eradicatingfistulaforever #endfistula #drcatherinehamlin #australianicon #australianlegend #restinpeace #eradicatefistulaforever #empoweredtoempower #womensdevelopment #womenshealth #holisticcare
In February 2015, Hamlin received a visit by fellow Australian, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, at the hospital where she lived.
In 2016 a Sydney ferry was named the Catherine Hamlin in her honour, and in December of that year Dr Hamlin issued a statement from the Ethiopian hospital where she still lived to thank all her supporters in Australia and around the world for their help.
“Fistula is a tragic injury that causes enormous sadness,” she wrote.
“The women often have to live alone and their lives are very tragic but they can be cured, and many of them have become wonderful citizens of Ethiopia and are helping others with similar birth injuries.
“Although I am retired I still get great joy from seeing women cured.”