A recent post on this blog described the huge contribution that Edith Vizard made as Lady Superintendent (Matron) of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and Convalescent Home.
Research has revealed some sources saying that Miss Vizard had trained at Great Ormond Street Hospital, another suggested she had actually been the Matron there. After contacting the Archives at Great Ormond Street we now know that Edith Vizard was indeed a former Lady Superintendent (Matron) at the renowned Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
Thanks to Sue Hawkins of Kingston University who has sent us the following information and also a link to a website dedicated to The History of Children’s Hospitals:
Edith Maria Vizard: Lady Superintendent at Great Ormond street, 1869-1871.
Edith Vizard was born in 1835/6 in Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, the daughter of a London-based solicitor, William. William and his wife had at least 8 children (7 girls of which Edith appears to be the eldest) and one son. The family was obviously well-situated. By 1851 they had moved from Bloomsbury to Hampstead and the household included a nurse, a nursemaid, a cook and housemaid. Although her siblings were all being educated at home 16-year-old Edith was away at Miss Puddicombe’s school in Reading at the time of the 1851 census. By 1861 she was back home with the family, who had relocated again from Hampstead to Ewell in Surrey.
The first mention of Miss Vizard in the Great Ormond Street records is in January 1869 in the Management Committee Minute Books. She is referred to as a lady ‘taking the place of’ Miss Summers, who has gone on leave. At this time the Children’s Hospital was staffed by ward nurses (usually working-class women) supervised by ‘lady nurses’. None were trained nurses – the ward nurses learnt on the job while the ‘lady nurses’ were of much more elevated class. They were present more to instill order and maintain discipline than for their nursing knowledge and prowess. All the Lady Nurses gave their time freely, they were not paid and most drifted in and out of the hospital as their social life permitted.
photo shows The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in 1870
Miss Vizard and a few others were exceptions, being drawn into the work they did and developing a dedication to the hospital and the small patients. These women became regular workers at the hospital and by the mid 1870s, all such women received a salary, in recognition of their dedication. After several stints in the hospital in the first half of 1869, Miss Babb, the Lady Superintendent (who managed the nurses and the housekeeping roles within the hospital) announced her intention to retire and recommended Miss Vizard as her replacement. Miss Vizard took up her post officially on 1 November that year, although it seems she had been standing in for Miss Babb from time to time before that.
In this photo (taken in 1871), from Great Omrond Street Hospital Archive, Miss Vizard is thought to be the lady seated on the right. An annotation on the back of the photograph names the women as: Miss Annie Balderson [a lady pupil], Mrs Dacre [who is not mentioned in any hospital nursing records], Miss Elizabeth Laishley, who later became Lady Superintendent of the convalescent home at Highgate, and Miss Anne Dalrymple Hay, who became Lady Superintendent of the main hospital on Miss Vizard’s departure later that year. Miss Dalrymple Hay was probably the Hospital’s most distinguished Lady Superintendent. She was the daughter of a Scottish baronet, Sir James Dalrymple Hay.
On 11 October 1871 (two years after acceding to the post) Miss Vizard’s intention to resign was noted in the Management Committee minutes. A special meeting was called to discuss her discision but unfortunately no record of that meeting, or the reasons for her resignation, have survived. On 25 october (I suspect very reluctantly) the Committee accepted her resignation and in a reflection of the high regard in which their Lady Superintendent was held was to be made a Life Governor of the Hospital. Vote thanks followed for her service over 2 yrs as Lady Superintendent.
Whatever her reasons for leaving, only months later she was to join forces with another Great Ormond Street ‘lady nurse’, Charlotte Cunninghame Graham (who also happened to be the aunt of the Hospital’s Secretary in the 1880s, Adrian Hope. Together, the two women established a convalescent home for children at Rhyl, in North Wales: The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and Convalescent Home.
In 1902 a short piece about the hospital appears in Nursing Record (3 May) in which Miss Vizard is described as a ‘lady who has devoted her life to the furthering of the interest of the hospital, not only as has she given her services but has also contributed largely to the funds’. In the 1901 census she was still listed as the Matron of the establishment, and in 1907, when she died, a notice of her death in the Times of 1 May 1908 indicates she was still living within the hospital. She left a considerable sum of money £4,961 in her will, to her brother Herbert, a solicitor.
Many thanks also to Archives at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.