HISTORY OF QUEEN VICTORIA WOMEN’S CENTRE

 

From 1848 to today
Queen Victoria Women’s Centre

The Queen Victoria Women’s Centre is an iconic building located in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. It has a long association with community service and promoting the health and interests of women. Here is the story so far.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital Archives Theatre Sister c 1920

The Royal Melbourne Hospital Archives
Theatre Sister c 1920

1848
New colony, new hospital

The Melbourne Hospital opens its doors on the corner of Lonsdale and Swanston Streets. 

Following a public campaign and funded equally by the government and the people, it was the city’s only general public hospital for 23 years. Its services were in great demand as the fledgling colony’s fortunes grew and population boomed. By the early twentieth century over one million patients had been born, treated, cured or died at the Melbourne Hospital. But overcrowding, along with almost constant refurbishments, meant that the demand for a new hospital purpose-built to incorporate medical advances and a larger population could no longer be ignored. Despite concerns about the suitability of the site, in 1907 the Edward Wilson Trust donated £100,000 to rebuild the Melbourne Hospital where it stood, cementing its Lonsdale Street location as Melbourne’s medical heart for decades to come.

The Australian Sketcher, 29 January 1881  The 'old' Melbourne Hospital, 1881 - the front entrance, the operating room, one of the wards, convalescents in the garden.

The Australian Sketcher, 29 January 1881

The 'old' Melbourne Hospital, 1881 - the front entrance, the operating room, one of the wards, convalescents in the garden.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1896 
Pro Feminis A Feminis: for women, by women

The Queen Victoria Hospital opens, ushering in a revolution in women’s medical care. 

As the first women's hospital in Victoria, it was also one of only three in the world operated for women, by women. Founded by two sisters Dr Constance and Clara Stone and their cousin Mary Page Stone, the hospital opened in new premises on William Street by appealing to the women of Victoria to support its ‘Shilling Fund’ – just one shilling each would provide enough money to fund their new hospital. 

The Queen Vic also served another purpose – to provide training and employment for a small but increasing number of women doctors. These doctors were mostly unwelcome in the Victorian medical establishment, and the new hospital was a radical recognition that they were a necessity to the women of Victoria.

 
Constance Stone

Constance Stone

Clara Stone

Clara Stone

Mary Page Stone

Mary Page Stone

 
QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1912 
A new hospital for a new century 

The foundation stone of the new Melbourne Hospital is laid by Governor Sir John Fuller. 

Designed by father-and-son architectural team J.J. and E.J. Clark, the purpose built ‘pavilion’ hospital filled the entire city block bound by Swanston, Lonsdale, Russell and Little Lonsdale Streets. It represented a new era of modern medical treatment for Victorians. In 1913, Melbourne’s The Argus newspaper proclaimed: “No hospital in the world will be able to boast of better conditions for patients, whether as regards [to] housing, up-to-date methods of treatment, or attendance...”
The Argus, 22 July 1913

QVWC_History_6.jpg
QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1915 
On the cutting edge

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Research in Pathology and Medicine – known today as WEHI – begins in the Melbourne Hospital’s new pathology department.

To this day, WEHI remains a ground breaking force in medical research, including its support of Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet who won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. 

QVWC_History_7.jpg
QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1929 
A holistic approach to healthcare 

The Melbourne Hospital is the first in Australia to appoint a qualified social worker, Miss Agnes MacIntyre, to undertake patient care alongside doctors and nurses.

On the cusp of the Great Depression and with the Melbourne slums still a huge social problem, the Melbourne Hospital was unique in recognising broader impacts on patient wellbeing. In the Hospital’s 1933 Annual Report the Almoner’s Department reported that: “The effects of economic insecurity, unemployment, social legislation, etc., are perhaps more clearly seen in the out-patient’s department than in any other part of the hospital.’’

C’wood [i.e. Collingwood] open air wash-house ;  H2001.291/234  Courtesy State Library Victoria.  Slum housing was a huge problem in early Melbourne, with many living in deplorable conditions in the city’s inner suburbs.

C’wood [i.e. Collingwood] open air wash-house; H2001.291/234 Courtesy State Library Victoria.

Slum housing was a huge problem in early Melbourne, with many living in deplorable conditions in the city’s inner suburbs.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

March / April 1944
It’s a miracle! The antibiotic era begins 

Melbourne Hospital’s first patient receives the new drug that would change the face of modern medicine – penicillin.

One of the night theatre nurses at the time remembers:

“The penicillin was securely stored in the pathology department. After receiving strict instructions on the importance of this miraculous new drug, the terrific cost of it and the great responsibility we had in transporting it safely to the ward, we ventured out at midnight with our torch and the key to the pathology department to collect the drug. The penicillin was in a bottle in a specially labelled box. After the RMO had drawn up the required amount and given the injection wereturned the box and its precious contents safely back to the pathology department. Mission accomplished! We had witnessed the beginning of a new era in antibiotics.”

QVWC_History_9.jpg
QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

December 1944 
Melbourne Hospital on the move 

By the mid-forties, the Melbourne Hospital is ‘in crisis’ – overcrowded, its balconies are often used as makeshift wards and its facilities substandard. 

In 1944, the hospital moved to a modern building in Parkville, where it remains today. After much public debate about what to do with the old Lonsdale Street site, the hospital buildings were briefly inhabited by the Central Hospital, a specialist hospital for cancer, venereal disease and tuberculosis until…

QVWC_History_10.jpg
QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1946
The ladies of Lonsdale Street

Pro Feminis A Feminis! The revolutionary Queen Victoria Hospital moves to Lonsdale Street, giving rise to an association between the site and the women of Victoria that remains to this day.  

The transfer of QVH patients from William Street to Lonsdale Street began with eight ambulances and 25 patients and took 24 hours. The first baby was born on 1 March 1947, within 40 minutes of the labour ward being set up!

Pro Feminis A Feminis  For Women By Women

Pro Feminis A Feminis For Women By Women

Some of the first babies to move into the new nursery

Some of the first babies to move into the new nursery

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1956
Men are back in the building

After just ten years in Lonsdale Street, the Queen Vic is Pro Feminis a Feminis no more. 

The founders had succeeded in their original aim to provide opportunities for women doctors. Medical schools now included women students, and all public hospitals included women doctors on staff, meaning female graduates no longer had to gravitate to the Queen Vic for work.  

Three male doctors were appointed that year, marking the beginning of the transformation of the hospital’s role. By 1965 the Queen Vic became affiliated with Monash University as a General Teaching Hospital and the first group of fifth-year medical students, including men, began travelling to the Lonsdale Street hospital for their clinical training.

Queen Vic pathology lab c1956 showing some of the new male staff members

Queen Vic pathology lab c1956 showing some of the new male staff members

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1956
Talking the talk  

Hedwig Benz, the hospital’s first full-time interpreter, is employed to help staff communicate with the huge increase in post-war migrant patients.

Along with the baby boom, post-war immigration changed the face of Melbourne. From 1956, the number of interpreters employed by the hospital continued to grow, and by 1985, the Queen Vic employed twelve full- and part-time interpreters who spoke fourteen languages between them, reflecting Melbourne’s transformation into a vibrant, cosmopolitan city.

Queen Vic staff in a Greek class provided by the hospital's interpreting department to help communication with patients.

Queen Vic staff in a Greek class provided by the hospital's interpreting department to help communication with patients.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1973 
Support for single mothers

The Whitlam Government introduces the single mothers’ pension, marking a revolutionary change in attitude towards unmarried mothers.

Previously, single mothers were provided with little support to care for their children. They were encouraged or coerced into signing adoption papers and, over the preceding decades, an estimated 150,000 newborns were made available for adoption, often illegally and without informed consent.

The Royal Women’s Hospital and the Queen Victoria Hospital dealt with the largest proportion of single mothers in Victoria, and so arguably were the most complicit. After grassroots campaigns across Australia and a Senate Inquiry, apologies have been given on behalf of institutions to the mothers, fathers, children and families.

On 21 March 2013, the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered the National Apology for Forced Adoptions to people affected by forced adoption or removal policies and practices.

On 21 March 2013, the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered the National Apology for Forced Adoptions to people affected by forced adoption or removal policies and practices.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1972
Family Planning, Pro Choice

The Queen Vic leads the way in providing family planning services. 

By the late sixties the Queen Vic was one of only three institutions in Victoria to offer an advisory service, and by 1972, its family planning clinic was the largest in Australia. The hospital supported both family planning and pro-choice considerations in health care and, between 1970 and 1976, increasingly became the focal point for irate anti-abortionist protesters.  

Anti-abortion protesters demonstrated in the foyer of the Queen Vic in Lonsdale Street for several weeks in May 1975.

Anti-abortion protesters demonstrated in the foyer of the Queen Vic in Lonsdale Street for several weeks in May 1975.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1973
We are family 

The Queen Vic now treats both men and women of all ages and is affectionately dubbed ‘The Family Hospital’.

With this change in direction came a change in location. In 1973 the Minister for Health announced the Queen Vic would be relocated close to Monash University, serving the rapidly expanding population along Melbourne’s south-eastern corridor. 

The freeways are coming!

The freeways are coming!

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1977
Support for victims of sexual assault 

The Queen Vic leads the way in supporting victims of sexual assault. 

In 1977, the Victorian Rape Study Committee was formed after a Victorian public hospital refused to treat a rape victim. The committee decided to fund a 24-hour counselling service to victims of sexual assault. This funding went to the Queen Vic and eventually led to Australia’s first government supported Sexual Assault Centre in 1979, housed in a room off the hospital’s casualty ward.1

Today there are 15 Centres Against Sexual Assault across Victoria, one of which is housed in the QVWC on Lonsdale Street, the sole remaining hospital building.

There are now 15 Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault providing support and advocacy for survivors.

There are now 15 Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault providing support and advocacy for survivors.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1987 
A centre for women; a battle begins 

The Queen Vic finally moves out to Clayton, ultimately becoming the Monash Medical Centre. 

Meanwhile, back in Lonsdale Street, debate raged over what to do with the historic Queen Vic Lonsdale Street site. Once it became apparent that the government intended to sell most, if not all of the precinct, activists campaigned government and private buyers to preserve the Queen Vic buildings as a centre for future generations of women. After a prolonged campaign…

The 'Queen Vic' campaign call to action

The 'Queen Vic' campaign call to action

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1994
The battle is won! 

Finally the sale of the Lonsdale Street site is finalised and the future of the women’s centre secured: “the preferred central tower will be refurbished to house the Women’s Group…the future of the Central Tower is now secure and the future of the other two towers will follow in due process”
Office of the Minister for Finance, news release, 11 March 1994.

Herald Sun, March 11 1994.

Herald Sun, March 11 1994.

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

1996 
The Queen Victoria Women’s Centre opens … then opens again 

After a $4.7 million restoration, the Queen Victoria Women’s centre opens in the central tower, the last remaining building of the old hospital site. The organisation has its ups and downs over the next two decades: the Centre dissolves in 1998 and reopens in 2005, as the QV retail precinct develops its surrounds.

Restoration of the entrance foyer

Restoration of the entrance foyer

QVWC_GreyLine_Timeline.png

2019 
A landmark and a legacy remains 

The Queen Victoria Women’s Centre today is an iconic Melbourne landmark. It houses organisations that support and empower women and is a vibrant hub that promotes community through cultural activities. Over a century on, it remains true to its founding motto: by women, for women.

group.jpeg