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Hilda Mary Hanton (1884–1954)

by Joan Durdin

This article was published:

Hilda Mary Hanton (1884-1954), hospital matron, was born on 23 June 1884 at Yankalilla, South Australia, fourth of five children of Walter Hardy Hanton, Wesleyan minister, and his wife Fanny, née Roach. As a young woman Hilda Mary cared for her semi-invalided younger sister, Clarice, and enjoyed painting as a recreation. She trained as a nurse at the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital in 1913-17, receiving a gold medal for first-class passes in her final examinations. A charge nurse from June 1919, Hanton unsuccessfully applied in November for the position of matron of the Memorial Hospital (which was to be opened by the Methodist Church at North Adelaide next year). In January 1920 she was appointed matron of the twenty-bed hospital at Renmark on the River Murray. Its facilities were frequently under pressure, but she coped by careful administration, dedication and resourcefulness. In July 1922 she became matron of the Memorial Hospital: she was to guide its development for the ensuing twenty-five years during which the number of beds increased from 30 to 140.

The hospital provided for private patients receiving medical and surgical treatment, and for maternity cases. Its four-year training programme for nurses was recognized by the Nurses Board of South Australia on which Hanton served as a member (1923-43) of the panel of examiners. Believing that the bedside nurse was the very foundation of the profession and that a matron should take an active role in the care of patients, she was a familiar figure in the wards. Many women appreciated her support at the birth of their babies and in their first days of motherhood. She visited each patient daily and developed a special bond with occasional, long-term invalids. To the nursing staff Hilda Mary, as she was unofficially known, became a legend. A small woman, immaculately dressed in a white, starched, high-collared uniform and a veil, she set high standards for her nurses. Although in awe of her, they respected her discipline, fairness and kindness.

Involved in the wider affairs of her profession, for twenty years Matron Hanton was a councillor of the South Australian branch of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association (president 1941-45). She was also a president of the National Florence Nightingale Committee, Australia, and vice-chairman of the Australian Nurses' Christian Movement. The 'continuous and monotonous drive' of the years of World War II made demands on matrons in civilian hospitals through staff shortages and limited finances. After leaving the operating theatre one night, Hanton was accused by air-raid wardens of aiding and abetting the Japanese because lights were visible in the nurses' home.

In 1946 her health declined and she retired one year later. Her successor was K. I. A. ('Kay') Parker. The Memorial Hospital's board of management praised Hanton's 'unfailing courtesy, unwearied devotion, her even, cheerful temperament . . . and unexcelled ability'; the Methodist Church extolled her 'magnificent ministry'. In 1948 she was appointed M.B.E. She continued to nurse part time in a small private hospital. Miss Hanton died of cancer on 14 April 1954 in her home at Toorak Gardens and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £2546.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Haseloff, Inasmuch ... : The Memorial Hospital Story (Adel, 1976)
  • J. Durdin, They Became Nurses (Syd, 1991)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 19, 21, 25 June 1947, 1 Jan 1948, 22 Apr 1954
  • (Royal) Adelaide Hospital, Register of appointments, 1884-1920
  • Memorial Hospital, minutes of meetings of Board of Management, 1919-54
  • Renmark Hospital, minutes of meetings of Board of Management, 1920-22
  • Nurses' Board of South Australia, Midwives register, 1922-30 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Nurses' Registration Board of Examiners minutes, 1924-63 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Florence Nightingale Memorial Committee, South Australian Branch records (Royal Australian Nursing Federation Archives, Kent Town, Adelaide)
  • Australian Trained Nurses' Association (South Australia), minutes of meetings (Royal Australian Nursing Federation Archives, Kent Town, Adelaide)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joan Durdin, 'Hanton, Hilda Mary (1884–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 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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