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Irene Slater Hall (1888–1961)

by Betty Capper

This article was published:

Irene Slater Hall (1888-1961), hospital matron, was born on 19 July 1888 at Ryde, Sydney, fourth child of native-born parents Moses Slater Hall, farm servant, and his wife Harriett, née Noakes. Irene spent her early life in Sydney and was educated there. In 1907 she began nursing at Ellen Gould's Ermelo Private Hospital, Dulwich Hill, before starting her training at Sydney Hospital in January 1908. Registered on 9 July 1913, she remained on the staff as a head nurse until she became head nurse and deputy-matron at (Royal) Newcastle Hospital on 1 December 1914. Five months later she was appointed matron. During her forty-three years in office her name became synonymous with the institution which grew from a small district hospital to a large modern one.

A keen horsewoman, Miss Hall rode to and from New Lambton on her weekly inspection of the convalescent home. Possessing a 'certain presence', she was almost six feet (183 cm) tall, endowed with good looks and with eyes that could give a glacial glance or show compassion. Her beautiful handwriting, letters and reports demonstrated her intelligence. A dignified and dedicated woman of great integrity, she continued the Nightingale tradition. In her induction address she told new trainee-nurses that 'you will find that my school can be likened to the British army, there is only one difference—they have slackened discipline, I have not'.

Matron Hall was cutting and severe when she detected infringements of the rules of her training-school or anything less than excellent patient care. She considered it an essential part of training to demand of and enforce upon her nurses a high standard of personal morality, ethics and etiquette. Following the conference of the Matrons' Association of New South Wales, held at Newcastle in 1933, she edited the Matrons' Handbook of Lectures to Trainees (1935). In 1950 she published a paper on the 'Importance of Ethics in Nursing' in the Journal of the First Australian Nursing Conference.

A skilled administrator, Hall worked tirelessly to improve the status of her profession. She was a council-member (1927-58) of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association, a foundation member and fellow of the College of Nursing, Australia, president of the State branch of the Florence Nightingale Committee of Australia, and a delegate to congresses of the International Council of Nurses in London in 1937, at Atlantic City, United States of America, in 1947, and in Rome in 1957. She was also interested in a range of civic and charitable organizations.

Hall was awarded King George V's silver jubilee (1935) and Queen Elizabeth II's coronation (1953) medals, and appointed M.B.E. in 1957. Due to ill health, she retired in 1958, but maintained a keen interest in the hospital and her nursing staff. She died on 11 August 1961 in Royal Newcastle Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. The nurses home (built in 1960) was named after her.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Armitage, A Golden Age of Nursing (Syd, 1991)
  • Australasian Nurses' Journal, 11, no 8, 15 Aug 1913, p 284, 59, no 9, Sept 1961, p 228
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Aug 1947, 1 Jan 1957
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 3 Jan, 22 Feb, 4 Dec 1957, 12 Aug 1961
  • Newcastle Sun, 11 Aug 1961
  • B. Capper, The History of Nurse Education at Royal Newcastle Hospital: 1891-1991 (M.Ed. Studies thesis, University of Newcastle, 1991)
  • Newcastle Hospital records, 1914-15 (Royal Newcastle Hospital Archives)
  • Hall papers (Royal Newcastle Hospital Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Betty Capper, 'Hall, Irene Slater (1888–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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