A maternity home was place where a mother could give birth attended by a midwife.
During the nineteenth, and much of the twentieth century, most women had their babies in their own home usually attended by a midwife. However, convict women gave birth in the female factories at Cascade and Ross and, from about the mid 1870s, some charitable institutions opened for mothers who were poor and single. These included Hope Cottage in 1887, the Anchorage Home in 1889, the Home of Mercy in 1890, and Elim Maternity Hospital in 1897. Single mothers with intellectual disabilities had been able to give birth at the former Infant School, now part of the New Town Charitable Institution, since 1874. Most of these maternity homes were also rescue homes which tried to reform the young mothers.
Cottage hospitals, some of which later became district hospitals, began opening in the 1880s. By 1914, there were twelve. These hospitals had maternity beds. Sometimes if these hospitals closed, the maternity section remained open. This happened in 1950 when the hospital at Scottsdale closed.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to make birth safer, some women's groups established two larger maternity homes, one in the north and the other in the south. They were the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital in Launceston in 1897 and the Queen Alexandra Maternity Hospital in Hobart in 1908. Both offered training to midwives.
Concerns about the infant mortality rate had made that training increasingly important. Although usually experienced, most nineteenth century midwives had no qualifications and their level of skill varied. This led to calls for midwives to be qualified and, in 1901, Parliament passed the Midwifery Nurses Act, the first in Australia. By 1902, midwives had to be registered after passing a fairly easy exam to prove their competence.
In the first half of the twentieth century, some of these midwives ran small cottage maternity homes, sometimes in a room of their own house. Most towns contained one or more of these establishments. In Devonport, midwives ran cottages in Oldaker, McFie, Wenvoe and Stewart Streets. In the mid 1940s, a Matron Bevan ran a maternity hospital opposite the wheat silos along the waterfront in Devonport.
From 1918, these homes had to be registered and as successive legislation demanded increasingly higher standards, their numbers declined. Home births also declined. By the 1950s, most babies were born in the larger public and private hospitals.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Medical, surgical sections of the Scottsdale Hospital to close', Examiner (Launceston), 27 July 1950, p. 8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52780850; Alexander, Alison, 'Midwifery', in The Companion to Tasmanian History, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, Hobart, 2005, http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/M/Midwifery.htm; Rimon, Wendy, 'Hospitals', in The companion to Tasmanian history, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, Hobart, 2005, http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/H/Hospitals.htm; Wilson, John R, A century of caring: Latrobe's Hospital 1887-1987: an illustrated history of the Devon Cottage Hospital, the Devon Public Hospital and the Mersey General Hospital in northern Tasmania, Graduate Nurses' Association Centennial Celebrations Committee, Mersey General Hospital, Latrobe, 1988, 306 pp.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 9 May 2014, Last modified: 25 February 2015