From 1893, Edith Cowan worked for the House of Mercy for unmarried mothers (later the Alexandra Home for Women). In 1909 she was one of the founders of the Women's Service Guild and was vice-president from 1909 to 1917. One of the aims of the Guild was to establish equal rights of citizenship for both men and women. Through fund-raising, public meetings and government lobbying, this group was instrumental in opening the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in 1916.

History of King Edward Memorial Hospital

The state's principal medical officer Dr Hope was concerned about the lack of a maternity hospital in Western Australia. On 8 November 1909, the Women's Service Guild held a meeting in the Government House Ballroom attended by 400 people to further discuss the establishment of a maternity hospital. A committee was formed which included Edith Cowan, Mary Molloy [the wife of the Lord Mayor], Deborah Hackett and James Battye, with the aim of working towards creating the hospital. The committee chose the name King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women to commemorate King Edward VII who died in 1910.

King Edward Memorial Hospital

In the 1913 Public Health Annual Report it was noted a suggestion that rather than building the proposed hospital, a new ward should be added to Perth Public Hospital [now Royal Perth Hospital], but that wasn't considered good enough. In a rousing speech at a meeting to campaign for a stand alone hospital, Edith Cowan suggested that if finances were the delaying factor, then perhaps the Government Industrial School building in Subiaco should be used. The Minister for Health was present at the meeting and he agreed that the hospital should be commenced immediately and that is how the Industrial School became the new hospital.

The new and existing buildings that were built around the school building provided accommodation for 20 patients and staff and in July 1916 King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women was officially opened.

According to Cohen and Hutchison's history of the hospital, 101 babies were born in the first six months and the hospital charged a standard fee of 3 for delivery and 14 days of postnatal care.

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Relevant Correspondence

As secretary of the King Edward Memorial Hospital committee Edith Cowan wrote to the Premier J. Scaddan 14 August 1913, urging consideration be given to building a maternity hospital for women and children. A copy of this correspondence was published in the Western Mail, Friday 2 October 1914.

Premier John Scaddan

A unique position : a biography of Edith Dircksey Cowan, 1861-1932 by Peter Cowan. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1978.

A very special place: Perth's 99-year-old King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women by Emma Wynne. 720 ABC Perth, 3 February 2015. Website accessed September 2015.

Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954), Friday 2 October 1914, p. 2.

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