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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter X. — Formation of the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association

page 65

Chapter X.
Formation of the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association.

When I first came to New Zealand, there was no organisation among the nurses themselves, and the nurses of the North Island knew nothing of the nurses of the South Island. They might have belonged to different countries; although in a way linked together by their State registration, and by having a head of the profession.

In Wellington, a number of private nurses were combined together under Mrs. Holgate, who had a private hospital, and who started a bureau of trained nurses for the convenience of the doctors, and the public. She started a small residential club, and this developed into an association of private nurses. Mrs. Kendall, R.R.C., a St. Bartholomew nurse, whose husband was practising in Wellington, was elected president. Mrs. Kendall was a distinguished nurse who was one of the first body of nurses sent to India under Miss Loch during some of the Frontier toubles. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, which had been instituted by Queen Victoria, for services under fire. She was very retiring, but had much quiet wisdom, and was an inspiration to nurses who were fortunate enough to know her. She had a family of three children, but found time to devote to the affairs of the little association.

After I arrived fresh from Australia, where the Trained Nurses' Association was a very important body, I thought page 66 that some such organisation would be of benefit to the New Zealand nurses.

Of course, having State registration which carries out the most important functions of the Australian association, the regulation of training, and a uniform system of examination, and provides a list of registered qualified nurses, any association in New Zealand would be of a different character; but to give opportunity for the discussion of matters affecting the profession, and for the meeting of leading nurses and the exchange of their views, there would be quite enough of interest and value to encourage the formation of an association.

Wellington was the first to open the little association of private nurses to those belonging to hospital staffs, and to those not practising, owing to marriage or other reasons. A committee was elected, Mrs. Kendall still being president, and a large residential club was established with a matron to manage it, and a bureau from which calls for nurses could be supplied.

Dunedin was the next to start a similar association and bureau, but no residence. I travelled here, and to Auckland and Christchurch, where also the local nurses had banded together, and urged that the four associations should be affiliated in one common New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association, with uniform aims and objects and similar rules. This was accomplished and a central council was elected in 1909, composed of four members from each centre and I was elected president. Mrs. Neill was first proposed, but was not able to accept. My assistant, Miss Bicknell, was appointed hon. secretary.

At first a triennial conference was arranged for, to be held in each centre in turn, and a great interest was taken in these meetings; unity among the nurses was promoted, and interest in the developments in professional work was page 67 stimulated by lectures given by many of the leading medical men, at the ordinary meetings of the branches.

I must not forget to mention the great assistance and encouragement given by the doctors on the establishment of the association: in each centre, they served on the councils as medical members, and gave help ungrudgingly.

Dr. William Young, of Wellington, was on the Central Council until, when we desired to affiliate with the International Council of Nurses, the rule of which was strict self-government, by nurses themselves, he retired. He still remained on the local council, but after a while that was not allowed under the International Council rules, and he could then only be connected with the association in an advisory capacity.

Naturally, as the association grew out of infancy, the nurse members were able to take the full control that the medical men shared at first.

After the affiliation and formation of the Central Council, the next step was to become part of the world wide organisation of nurses known as the International Council. As I have already mentioned, Mrs. Grace Neill was one of the foundation members.

Unfortunately our amalgamation into the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association was too late for our acceptance into the International Council in 1909, when the quinquennial meeting was to be held in London in July, we were, however, represented at this conference by Miss Palmer of the Wellington branch, and by Miss Maude, of the Christchurch branch; a letter was sent me by Miss Dock, the Honorary Secretary of the International Council, and the co-author of that delightful book The History of Nursing, a copy of which she had kindly presented to the Wellington branch in 1908, saying “How page 68 great was the gratification and pleasure afforded the members of the International Council by the sending of the fraternal delegates, Miss Maude and Miss Palmer”; and hoping that as our national association was now formed, New Zealand would enter at the next meeting in 1912 to be held at Cologne, as a full member.

The Central Council of the association met for the first time on the 18th November, 1909, in the Nurses' Club, Willis Street, Wellington, each of the four branches being represented by delegates from all the centres.

As president, I was in the chair, Mrs. Kendall, and Miss Bicknell, Mrs. Gibbs, Miss Berry, Dr. Young, represented Wellington; Mrs. Kidd and Miss Meleta Jones Auckland; Mrs. Irving, Miss Turner and Miss Beck, Christchurch; Dr. Will and Miss Jeffrey, Dunedin.

Quite a long account of this meeting given in the January, 1910, number of Kai Tiaki, shows the interest taken in the new association, and the pleasure that the delegates had in meeting each other. Interspersed with business there were social gatherings at which all members of the association and many of their friends were present. I gave an afternoon tea at the Kelburn Kiosk, the matron of the Wellington Hospital, the late Miss Payne, gave an afternoon tea at the hospital also.

Seeing the old picture of the delegates in Kai Tiaki is really amusing; how much more sensible are our present fashions!

We also had a dinner party at the Hotel Windsor, and it is interesting to read the speeches, and recall those who, at that time, took so keen an interest in the Nurses' Association.

Since that meeting we have had many: for some years they were triennial, but now they are annual. I remained President for six years, but then resigned and a president page 69 is now elected at each meeting, being automatically the president of the branch where the next meeting is held.

One of the first important steps taken by the Associaation was to protest against a clause in a Hospital Bill then before the House, which would have made compulsory an eight hour day for all nurses in hospitals, private as well as public. This protest succeeded in limiting the legislation to uncertified nurses in training and really left matters practically as they were.

In the October number of Kai Tiaki, we can read all about the International Congress of Nurses at Cologne, at which the New Zealand Association was accepted into membership.

We were fortunate in having three well known and leading nurses as representatives from New Zealand, Miss Jeanie Sutherland, now alas departed, Mrs. Holgate, who has also joined the great majority, and Miss Beswick, were our delegates.

Miss Sutherland replied to the address of welcome, and received a beautiful bouquet of lilies.

We were welcomed into membership to the sound of the National Anthem. Miss Sutherland's report of the Congress is published in Kai Tiaki, and is most interesting.

Since this meeting, we have been represented at several others, Miss Bicknell at Copenhagen in 1923, Montreal, 1929, Miss Moore at Helsingfors in 1925. I was about to attend a meeting in America in 1915, but the War broke out, and everything of that nature was cancelled, and I have never had the pleasure and privilege of being present at any of these great gatherings.

This is not a history of the Association, but only of my part of its formation, and the details of its progress, page 70 which have been fully reported in the Nurses' Journal, cannot be entered into here. From the four centres, many branches have sprung, and throughout the Dominion, great interest is manifested in it by the nurses, though still many remain outside.

Mention must not be omitted in this record, although it was after my retirement, and during my absence in Sydney, of the formation of a matrons' council.

This was organised by the late Miss Stott, Matron of Wellington Hospital in 1904, and the proposal was welcomed with enthusiasm by many of the matrons. A very successful meeting was held at the Wellington Hospital. It was proposed to meet every two years, but before the second meeting the organiser, Miss Stott, after a long illness, passed away. At this second meeting, which was attended by matrons from all over the Dominion, it was decided to merge the Council in the Trained Nurses' Association, holding the Matrons' Council meetings as a part of the annual conference in a separate section. It would have been impossible for many matrons to have attended two annual or bi-annual conferences, and would probably have deprived the general association of its most valuable support.

The second meeting of the Matrons' Council I was glad to be able to attend.