Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edna Mary Anna Jane Shaw (1891–1974)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published:

Edna Mary Anna Jane Shaw (1891-1974), hospital matron, was born on 7 June 1891 at Murrumburrah, New South Wales, eldest of six children of native-born parents Rev. Augustus Rutherford Shaw, Anglican clergyman, and his wife Mary Emillia, née Druitt. She was educated at Miss Hogg's school, Petersham, and at Goulburn. Ending a three-year engagement to a doctor, she entered Marrickville Cottage Hospital as a probationer in 1914. Granted her certificate in December 1917, she gained her midwifery certificate from the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, next June. Enlisting for active service, she was called-up just before the Armistice.

Edna Shaw worked briefly as a private nurse before being appointed acting matron, for one month, at the sixty-bed Women's Hospital, Crown Street, in January 1919. When the new matron, Agnes Clarke, assumed control, she was invited to remain as deputy. She took charge of the district work and, assisted by trainee nurses, was attending over 400 home confinements a year by 1930. In 1924 she also became responsible for the new out-patients' department. Gaining her mothercraft certificate in 1927 from the Tresillian Mothercraft Training School, Petersham, run by the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, she took charge of a new ward for premature babies next year. Giving 'loyal services untiringly', she found the work increasingly interesting. In 1933 she holidayed overseas with her sister and visited Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital, London, and the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin.

Appointed matron of Crown Street in 1936, Edna Shaw worked long hours, visited every mother and baby daily, giving advice or practical help when needed, and inspected kitchen, laundry and staff quarters. If necessary, she would man the switchboard, stoke furnaces, prepare meals or scrub floors. She acted as unofficial child-minder until the hospital's crèche was opened. With 'a mixture of simplicity and guile', she offered sympathy and support to unmarried mothers and helped to arrange hundreds of adoptions annually. Until the appointment of a tutor sister she also instructed trainee nurses.

Matron Shaw rejoiced in the scientific advances which made childbirth safer, but maintained that love and common sense remained essential. Whenever possible, babies were kept in the ward with their mothers. Crown Street, with 360 beds by 1949, became increasingly popular and she opened a 'Baby Bureau' to allocate beds elsewhere for women who could not be accommodated. She welcomed the establishment of antenatal and sterility clinics and an almoners' department. From 1950 she tried to send mothers home after forty-eight hours.

Matron Shaw was a member of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association, served on its council (1938-52) and was a nominee to the Nurses' Registration Board (1937-49) and the health committee of the National Council of Women of New South Wales from 1941. She was a committee member of the New South Wales Nurses' Association, a member of the Australian Nurses' Christian Movement and the local Institute of Hospital Matrons. In World War II she worked for the Church of England National Emergency Fund.

Tall and serene, Matron Shaw had large, sparkling, blue-grey eyes and a warm smile. Known as 'the mother of 100,000 babies', she was loved far and wide and was highly respected by her staff. She was appointed O.B.E. in June 1950 and, on retiring on 31 October 1952, was presented with a cheque for £1000, following a public appeal. A new wing of the nurses' home was named in her honour.

Although suffering ill health, Edna Shaw retained a lively interest in the hospital and obstetrics. She gave radio broadcasts and served on the committee of sponsors of the Hammondsville Homes for Senior Citizens. She died on 25 January 1974 and was buried in Waverley cemetery with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Nurses' Journal, 15 Jan, 15 July, 15 Nov 1918, 15 Jan, 15 Apr 1919
  • Women's Hospital, Sydney, Annual Report, 1919-52
  • R.P.A., Dec 1952
  • People (Sydney), 23 Sept 1953
  • Achievement, Aug 1967
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Jan, 14 Aug 1949, 8 June 1950, 6 Oct 1951, 23 Oct 1952, 31 Dec 1973, 25 Jan 1974
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Shaw, Edna Mary Anna Jane (1891–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 June, 1891
Murrumburrah, New South Wales, Australia


25 January, 1974 (aged 82)

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.