Hospital History: The Ladies' Committee 1879

Illustration by Cate James, Poem by Linda Cracknell


My name is Henrietta
I'm making poor children better
with my ladies from the New Town.
We don't get a single crown
from the gentlemen Directors
but we don't let them forget us.
We might take tea out of porcelain
but we won't allow a morsel
of poor food or misconduct
or nurses’ duties ducked
to pass us by.
Our standards are high
for perfect matrons, clever mothers,
welcomed visitors, clean bedcovers.
And we’ve each a sharpened tongue
behind our smiles. To help the young.

Rule 20 of the RHSC Constitution: The Ladies’ Committee shall have the ‘…purpose of organising and carrying out a plan for aiding in the collection and augmentation of the funds of the institution; and for providing articles of household use for the hospital or clothing for its poor inmates; and generally for supporting the interests of the institution by the active exercise of their influence in the several circles of society.'

'This formidable group of, mostly, New Town ladies played an essential role in raising cash for the hospital and garments for the ill-clad patients, but they had definite views on the incompetence and fecklessness of mothers, on the need for a 'superior' class of girl to become a nurse, fixed ideas on propriety and would occasionally and unannounced swoop like Valkyries to check the toilet, kitchen and other accommodation. They demanded from a matron the qualities of exceptional efficiency, self-confidence tempered by a suitable deference and the ability to offer them praise for their work without seeming patronising. Like women from a Victorian novel, they did not exercise power but were able to manipulate it and those who did not live up to expectations -- and there were several -- could not be expected to survive.' From page 14 'A Most Perfect Hospital' by George Birrell,1995

Watch out Mrs Snowden! (see post about this matron's term 1874-1880)

In 1879 the RHSC was in Meadowside House, formerly a reformatory, on Lauriston Lane on the north side of The Meadows.

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