Elizabeth Kenny (20 September 1880 – 30 November 1952) was an unqualified Australian nurse who promoted a controversial new approach to the treatment of poliomyelitis in the era before mass vaccination eradicated the disease in most countries.
Elizabeth Kenny was born in Warialda, NSW, in 1880. Lisa, as her family called her, was home schooled by her mother before attending schools in New South Wales, and finally Nobby on the Darling Downs in Queensland. Some time during her 18th year she fell from a horse and broke her wrist. Her father took her to Dr. Aeneas McDonnell in Toowoomba where she was cared for during her convalescence. While there, she studied McDonnell's anatomy books and model skeleton. That began a life-long association with McDonnell, who became her mentor and advisor. She later claimed she became interested in how muscles worked while convalescing from her accident. Instead of using a model skeleton, as they were only available for medical students, she made her own. From the age of 18 until she was in her mid twenties she worked as an unqualified "bush" nurse in the Clifton district. In 1907 she returned to Guyra to live with a cousin. While there she claimed to have received some basic nursing training from a local midwife, but there is no confirmed record of her undertaking any formal nurse training. She also brokered agricultural sales between Guyra farmers and markets to the north in Brisbane. Contrary to some sources, she was not a member of a religious order. In British Commonwealth nations, the term "Sister" is applied to senior qualified nurses, and does not necessarily indicate a religious vocation.
In 1909, Kenny returned to Nobby and assumed the role of a qualified nurse after paying a tailor to make her a nurse's uniform, complete with cap and cape. Using the money she earned by brokering produce in Guyra, she opened a cottage hospital, St. Canice's, in 1911 in Clifton, a village about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) from Nobby. Kenny provided convalescent and midwifery services at St. Canice's, and treated her first confirmed cases of infantile paralysis under the supervision of the local Lodge Doctor.