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History of the Women's and Children's Hospital

Adelaide Children's Hospital original building

The Women's and Children's Hospital had its beginnings as the Adelaide Children's Hospital, established in 1878, and the Queen Victoria Hospital, which opened in 1902.

The Adelaide Children's Hospital (1878–1994)

On 5 September 1876, Dr. Alan Campbell met with a group comprising Miss Ashley and Mesdames Colton, Campbell, Fowler, Jeffries, Knight, Stuckey and Smedley, the wives of prominent citizens, with the aim of establishing a Children’s Hospital to address the poor quality of life and high premature death rates among destitute and poor children.

The group soon gained the support of members of the medical profession (e.g., Drs. DW Campbell, Corbin, Ellison, Magarey, Peel, Curtis and EW Way) and of other influential people (e.g., Mr. Robert Barr Smith, Hon. Samuel Way, Prof. J Davidson, Mr. GW Goyder, Mr. C Peacock, Mr. D Murray and Mr. J Hartley).

Land was secured in North Adelaide (the current site of the WCH) for the sum of £2,500 and the Foundation stone was laid on June 20 1878.

These community-based meetings established a children’s hospital in South Australia a mere 24 years after the famed Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children began in London, UK.

After a fanfare of trumpets, the Hospital was declared open by Lady Jervois, wife of the Governor of SA and hospital patroness. The first in-patient was admitted that day and in less than two months 36 patients had been admitted. By the end of the first year the 'little charity hospital for the poor' had five nurses and 168 admissions which did not include children under the age of two as at this stage they were not accepted for admission.

By 1893 the hospital had appointed South Australia's first female medical school graduate Dr Laara Fowler and four years later the first laboratory was built heralding the beginnings of the hospital’s strong participation into paediatric research and development. Research began in earnest in 1964 with one floor of the Rieger Building being occupied by the University Of Adelaide Department Of Paediatrics.

The atmosphere of the hospital changed enormously during the second half of the century. Until 1955 parents were able to visit their children only on two days each week, and it was not until the 1970s that the way was open for parents to become closely involved in the care and comfort of their hospitalised children.

The hospital site

The main hospital site is bounded by King William Road, Kermode Street, Edwin Smith Avenue and Brougham Place, North Adelaide.

The first building was the Samuel Way Building, erected in 1878. It was demolished in 1965.

Now the oldest building is the Angas Building, opened in 1893. It was a gift from the Hon. John Howard Angas. Next to it is the second oldest building, the Alan Campbell Building, opened in 1897 and named after a founder of the hospital.

Other buildings include:

  • the Good Friday Building, named in recognition of donations to Easter Appeals
  • the Clarence Rieger Building, named after a former President of the hospital.
  • the Rogerson Building, named after hospital benefactor Mr. Robert Rogerson.
  • the Queen Victoria Building, named after the former Maternity Hospital of that name.
  • the present Samuel Way Building, named after the first President of the hospital.
  • the Michell Building, named after benefactor Mr. George H. Michell.

Further reading: The Adelaide Children’s Hospital 1876 – 1976 by Margaret Barbalet.

The Queen Victoria Hospital (1902–1989)

Concerned that women should have access to rest and quality healthcare after delivering their babies, Lady Tennyson founded SA’s first maternity hospital. In 1900 she secured from the South Australian Company the gift of an acre at Rose Park, and further grants of £2,550 to construct the hospital. Initially known as The Queen's Home, the hospital was officially opened on Queen Victoria's 83rd birthday on 24 May 1902.

In 1917 unmarried women were admitted to the hospital for the first time. Three years later antenatal clinics began in the Queen's Home. The first medical registrar and resident medical officer were appointed in 1923.

The hospital was renamed the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital in 1939 and was declared a public hospital seven years later under the provisions of the Hospital Benefits Act (1946).

Other milestones include the installation of the first humidicribs in South Australia in 1952, the extension of hospital services to include gynaecology in 1970 and the establishment of the State's first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in 1975.

Almost a quarter of a million South Australians began life at the Queen Victoria Hospital.

The Women's and Children's Hospital (1989–present)

The WCH officially came into existence in March 1989. Initially known as the Adelaide Medical Centre for Women and Children, the Hospital was formed through an amalgamation of the Queen Victoria Hospital and the Adelaide Children's Hospital. Blending an internationally recognised children's health care facility with South Australia's centre for excellence for women and babies paved the way for the provision of state of the art health care in one location.

In practical terms the rebirth of the two hospitals was completed 8 May 1995 when the Women's and Babies Division, housed in the new Queen Victoria Building at the North Adelaide site of the former Adelaide Children's Hospital, opened for business.

Over 150 patients, including very premature babies, were carefully transported by ambulance and taxi to the new facility. About 9.50 am the same day little Ashlee Cossens made history becoming the first baby born in the new facility. Ashlee's birth was all the more significant because heart problems were detected and she required surgery - carried out without the need for transport to another facility.

The WCH was the first Australian hospital specialising in health services for women, children and young people. The location of services in one complex enables continuity of care of babies and children, from conception to late adolescence. The Hospital also provides extended women's health care services.

Research and training

Research began in earnest in 1964 with one floor of the Rieger Building being occupied by the University of Adelaide Department of Paediatrics.

The atmosphere of the Children’s Hospital changed enormously during the second half of the century. Until 1955 parents were able to visit their children only on two days each week and it was not until the 1970s that the way was open for parents to become closely involved in the care and comfort of their hospitalised children.

The hospital has been at the forefront of developments in Paediatrics since its inception. It can claim to have had the first Bacteriological Laboratory of its kind in South Australia (1895). This facility, known as the Elder Laboratory, was at the Southern end of the Allan Campbell Building.

The Children’s Hospital has made nationally or even globally significant contributions in such varied fields as tetanus management, amoebic meningitis, cranio-facial surgery, chemical pathology, and medical genetics to name but a few. The agent found to cause amoebic meningitis was named naegleria fowlerii after the pathologist who described it, the ACH Head of Pathology, Dr. Malcolm Fowler.

The ACH played a significant role in training health professionals. Professor George Maxwell was appointed as the first Professor of Child Health in South Australia in 1959. The Hospital established the first nurse training school in South Australia. The first nurse trainee was Miss Alice Tibbetts, who began her training in 1879.