Not domestic servants: Aboriginal Australian women as trained nurses and midwives 1900-1949

Best, Odette and Grehan, Madonna (2015) Not domestic servants: Aboriginal Australian women as trained nurses and midwives 1900-1949. In: 32nd Annual AAHN Nursing & Health Care History Conference, 17-20 Sep 2015, Dublin, Ireland.


Purpose: This study aimed to test the veracity of anecdotal
reports that Aboriginal Australian women trained and worked as nurses and midwives in the first half of the twentieth century. It is commonly accepted in Australian history that, at least until the 1950s, the only form of employment available to Aboriginal Australian women was in domestic service. The first Indigenous women to undertake recognized training in nursing and/or midwifery are believed to have done so in the 1950s. Anecdotal evidence, however, points to examples of Aboriginal women training in nursing and midwifery as early as 1906, but these reports had not been verified. Our findings offer new historical evidence on the previously unacknowledged contribution of Aboriginal Australian women to Australian health care.

Methodology: Using a range of methods this study adopted oral history, combined with documentary history, to construct life biographies of individual nurses and midwives.

Major Primary and Secondary sources: We used a combination of primary and secondary sources. Primary sources included: oral histories with family/community; hospital records of nurse training and employment, certificates, images; professional association registers of members, newspapers of the relevant period. The main secondary sources were records of local history associations in places where a nurse trained and/or worked.

Findings and Conclusions: Our research introduces an entirely new cohort of pioneers in Australian nursing. It counters the received view that, prior to the 1950s, Aboriginal Australian women could work only as domestic servants or were simply passive recipients of health care. Our research established that Aboriginal Australian women were not denied the opportunity to undertake recognised training in nursing and/or midwifery in the first half of the twentieth century. The research supports anecdotal claims that some Aboriginal Australian women had agency, independence, and made a pioneering contribution to Australian health care.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Abstract published only.
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Nursing and Midwifery
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2016 02:01
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2017 03:56
Fields of Research : 11 Medical and Health Sciences > 1110 Nursing > 111099 Nursing not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 92 Health > 9299 Other Health > 929999 Health not elsewhere classified

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