Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Isla Stuart Blomfield (1865–1959)

by Meredith Foley and Judith Godden

This article was published:

Isla Stuart Blomfield (1865-1959), nurse, sanitary inspector and health visitor, was born on 9 July 1865 near Mudgee, New South Wales, eldest of eight children of native-born parents Henry Wilson Blomfield, grazier, and his wife Margaret, daughter of James Cox. Isla was raised in the Anglican faith. She was well educated and probably had a governess. After six months work at the Coast Hospital, Little Bay, she began nursing on 21 January 1896 at (Royal) Prince Alfred Hospital where Matron Susan McGahey noted that she was 'ever mindful of the patients' comfort'. On qualifying, Blomfield left in November 1899 for a 'long holiday'.

Having obtained an obstetrics certificate from Queen Charlotte's Lying-in Hospital, London, in 1901 she toured hospitals in the United States of America. Following further nursing at R.P.A.H., Blomfield spent three years in China and gained experience in treating infectious diseases. In 1909 she travelled by train across Siberia, visited Berlin and represented the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association at the International Council of Nurses' congress in London.

Back in Sydney, Blomfield qualified as a health inspector, with certificates from the Royal Sanitary Institute, London, and the East Sydney Technical College. Active for a decade on the A.T.N.A. council, she advocated the foundation of a college of nursing. Her frequent articles in the Australasian Nurses' Journal urged her colleagues to be more professional and assertive, provided advice on nursing cholera and dysentery patients, and promoted smallpox vaccination; they also expressed her demand for greater government intervention, as well as conveying her feminist and humanitarian ideals.

Nurse-in-charge (1910-11) of the Alice Rawson School for Mothers, in 1911 Blomfield was appointed nurse inspector by the Sydney Municipal Council's health committee. Under the supervision of W. G. Armstrong, she continued to 'educate' new mothers: as part of the campaign to reduce infant mortality, she visited over 1400 mothers a year until the government Baby Health centres took over in 1915. Continuing as sanitary inspector with special concern for women's health and tubercular patients, she maintained her neonatal interests. At the 1917 Infant and Child Welfare Conference she recommended subsidized milk as a means of improving maternal nourishment. From 1918 she was an executive-member of the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, established by the Holman government to oversee infant welfare.

Blomfield actively promoted her public health interests through membership of the Playgrounds Association, the Health Society of New South Wales (later Health Association of Australia), the standing committee on public health of the National Council of Women, the Board of Social Study and Training, the Professional Women Workers' Association and the Women's Club. With her mother (d.1927), she lived at the Astor, Macquarie Street. She retired in 1930.

Dr Armstrong judged that Isla's 'tact, natural charm and sympathy' had overcome much of the hostility of mothers to official interference. She registered as a general nurse in 1930, visited Britain twice more and, at the age of 79, took up sculpture. Blomfield died, unmarried, on 16 August 1959 at her Potts Point flat and was cremated with Christian Science forms.

Select Bibliography

  • K. O'Connor (compiler), Our Babies, the State's Best Asset (Syd, 1989)
  • Australasian Nurses' Journal, 15 Dec 1911, p 410, 15 Aug 1912, p 258, 15 Aug 1914, p 254, 15 Dec 1915, p 409, 15 Sept 1916, p 304, 15 Nov 1916, p 367, 15 Dec 1916, p 398, 16 Apr 1917, p 137, 15 July 1921, p 234, 16 June 1930, p 166
  • New South Wales Department of Public Health, Report of Director-General of Public Health, 1913-15, 1923-26
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Feb 1930, 3 Nov 1955
  • M. A. Foley, The Women's Movement in New South Wales and Victoria, 1918-1938 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1985)
  • V. Cowden, 'Mothers, As a Rule, Do Not Know . . .' Mothercraft Campaigns in the Inner Suburbs of Sydney 1904-1914 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of New South Wales, 1980)
  • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Record of service, nursing staff, 1890-1897 (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Graduate Nurses Assn Museum, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Meredith Foley and Judith Godden, 'Blomfield, Isla Stuart (1865–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 July, 1865
Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia


16 August, 1959 (aged 94)
Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.