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Abbott, Gertrude (1846 - 1934)

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Medical administrator and Nun
Born: 11 July 1846  Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.  Died: 12 May 1934  Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
Gertrude Abbott founded the St Margaret's Maternity Home (1894), which became the third largest obstetric hospital in Sydney. After Abbott's death the hospital passed to the Sisters of St Joseph. Gertrude Abbott was born Mary Jane O’Brien. In February 1868 she entered the religious Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and adopted the name Sister Ignatius of Jesus. She, along with another nun, claimed to witness visions, but it was later discovered that these manifestations had been faked by the other nun. Although Sister Ignatius of Jesus was not involved in the deception, she left the order in 1872 and adopted the name Mrs Gertrude Abbott.

Career Highlights
Alternative Names: O'Brien, Mary Jane (Birth name) | Sister Ignatius of Jesus (Religious name)
For twenty years after leaving the convent, Gertrude Abbott unsuccessfully strove to get approval for an order of contemplative nuns. During this time, the women she had gathered supported themselves through dressmaking. However in 1889 Abbott’s fortunes changed when she inherited the £609 estate of Julian Tenison-Woods. He was co-founder (with Mary McKillop) of the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and a major influence in Abbott’s life. Abbott cared for Tenison-Woods until his death in 1889 and used the inheritance to set up St Margaret's Maternity Home at 561 Elizabeth St Sydney. The home “provide(d) shelter and care for unmarried girls of the comparatively respectable class” and was “unsectarian”. Within two years the home had over 30 female patients (including at least 9 married), 3 midwifes and 8 trainee midwifes. Abbott ran the home then hospital for the next forty years. She got approval for Mass to be celebrated in the hospital chapel up to three times per week and introduced an outpatients department and a home-visiting service in 1904. The hospital moved to bigger premises in Bourke St, Sydney in 1910. Because it was not officially a Catholic institution, Abbott had to raise most of the funding herself, mostly through lotteries. After the death of long term colleague Sister Magdalen Foley in 1934, Abbott withdrew from the hospital administration. The hospital was handed over to the Sisters of St Joseph, in accordance with her wishes, after Gertrude Abbott died.

1868 - 1872Nun in the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart
1872 - 1893Dressmaking
1889Estate of Julian Tenison-Woods inherited
1893 - c. 1926Founder and President of the managing committee and later Matron at St Margaret's Maternity Home
1904Outpatients department opened and shift to include treating 'diseases of women'
1910St Margaret's Maternity Hospital relocates to Bourke St in Sydney
1921First government subsidy (£250) received
1926Relinquished role of running the hospital
c. 1934Hospital handed over to the Sisters of St Joseph

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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: McCarthy, G.J & Annette Alafaci
Created: 20 October 1993
Modified: 29 January 2007

Published by The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre on ASAPWeb, 1994 - 2007
Originally published 1994-1999 by Australian Science Archives Project, 1999-2006 by the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre
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