Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pidgeon, Elsie Clare (1879–1956)

by Ann M. Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Elsie Clare Pidgeon (1879-1956), hospital matron, was born on 28 September 1879 at St Leonards, North Sydney, eldest of four daughters of native-born parents Thomas Pidgeon, shipping clerk, and his wife Emily Louisa, née Cobcroft. In December 1904 she entered Sydney Hospital as a probationer and four years later was granted her certificate and appointed head nurse; she was promoted charge sister in January 1910.

Sister Pidgeon was not a member of the army nursing reserve but enlisted at the outbreak of war in 1914 and left Sydney with No.3 Australian General Hospital in May 1915 for Egypt. She nursed mostly medical patients at Mudros, Cairo, Brighton, England, and Abbeville, France, with a six-month break in 1917 on duty with No.1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station in France. She disliked nursing officers with whom she was mostly associated: 'they always expect more—and if you can't get it it is very distasteful nursing them'. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross (2nd class) and returned to Australia in 1920, resuming duty at Sydney Hospital in May.

Elsie Pidgeon acted as assistant matron after Rose Creal's death in August 1921 and when Maud Kellett assumed office in December the appointment was confirmed. The two made an effective team for over twenty years: Matron Kellett's hardness was tempered by the kindly understanding of her deputy. The relationship was severely strained in 1935 when Miss Pidgeon became the fourth Australian awarded the Florence Nightingale medal by the International Red Cross and again during Miss Kellett's sad decline after October 1942, when she interfered from the sick bay until June 1944.

Every Saturday it had been Elsie Pidgeon's custom to dine with her three sisters. She was well-informed on ballet, theatre and art and took special interest in the activities of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but most of her considerable energy was devoted to her profession. Her hospitality at Sydney Hospital was proverbial. She had joined the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association in 1909 and was honorary treasurer from 1946 until her death. Related committee activities included the New South Wales Bush Nursing Association, Florence Nightingale Committee of Australia, College of Nursing, Australia, Nurses' Club, Nurses' Registration Board and the local Institute of Hospital Matrons. She was also on the committee of the Returned Army Nursing Sisters' Club.

Miss Pidgeon had been appointed matron of Sydney Hospital retrospective to 23 October 1943. Her age had been understated by five years on her personnel record card. No retiring age was imposed on hospital matrons until 1961 and she never did retire but was admitted to sick bay on 21 February 1956 and died there on 4 July. Her funeral service at the Congregational Church, Pitt Street, was largely attended.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Nurses' Journal, July, Aug 1935, July, Aug 1956
  • Sydney Hospital, Annual Report, 1956
  • E. C. Pidgeon, notes of war experience, 29 Apr 1919 (Butler collection, Australian War Memorial)
  • Matrons' report books, House Committee minutes, Sydney Hospital
  • private information.

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Pidgeon, Elsie Clare (1879–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pidgeon-elsie-clare-8045/text14031, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 10 December 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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