Early life and education
Fannie Eleanor Williams was born in Adelaide, South Australia on 4 July 1884. She was the second child and eldest daughter of James Williams and his wife Helen DuBois. Williams grew up in Reedbeds, near Henley Beach, where her father was a farmer.
Williams trained as a nurse at the Adelaide Children's Hospital between 1904 and 1907. She was appointed sister in charge of the Thomas Elder Laboratory in 1907, and worked there for two years as an assistant to pathologist Dr Thomas Borthwick. In December 1909, Williams took up a position as nurse inspector with the Unley Local Board of Health for which she undertook home visits and tested patients for diphtheria, measles, and other notifiable diseases.
In 1911, Williams returned to work with Dr Borthwick as an attendant in a new pathology research laboratory at the Adelaide Hospital. She was the first woman in South Australia to hold such an appointment. She remained in this role until late 1914.