Page 1: Biography
Inglis, Helen Clyde
Teacher, hospital matron, nursing activist
This biography, written by Beryl Hughes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Helen Clyde Inglis, the daughter of Jane Anne Eames and her husband, John Inglis, a merchant, was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 15 November 1867. She was educated at private schools and at Christchurch Girls' High School. Afterwards she taught for some years. In 1900 she began training in Scotland as a nurse in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and in 1904 as a midwife in Glasgow Maternity Hospital.
On returning to New Zealand in 1905 she was appointed sister to the staff of Timaru Hospital. In 1906 she became assistant matron at St Helens Hospital, Wellington, and from 1907 to 1910 was first matron of St Helens Hospital, Christchurch. With her appointment as matron of Te Waikato Sanatorium near Hamilton in 1910, Helen Inglis moved into a new area of nursing. During her two years at Te Waikato she worked steadily to bring it into line with the sanatoriums at Otaki and Palmerston, Otago. The last phase of her career as a practising nurse, from 1913 to 1923, was as matron of St Helens Hospital, Wellington, where she worked with the medical officer, Dr Agnes Bennett, to improve conditions for mothers and babies.
Helen Inglis's most outstanding contribution to the nursing profession lay in her work for the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association (NZTNA), of which she was a very active member from its foundation in 1909. With Sibylla Maude and several other nurses she had formed the Canterbury Trained Nurses' Association in 1908. After moving to Wellington in 1913 she served for several years on the executive of the local branch of the NZTNA, and was appointed to represent it at the association's triennial central council meeting in 1919. She was president of the Wellington branch from 1919 to 1922 and then of the branch in Hawke's Bay (where she lived briefly after retiring) in 1923–24. From 1920 to 1922 she was president of the national association.
Retirement brought Helen Inglis into a new kind of work. From 1922 to 1932 she was the honorary general secretary of the central council of the NZTNA. She was a member of the Nurses and Midwives Registration Board from 1926 to 1928 and for six months in 1927 edited the association's journal, Kai Tiaki, during the absence overseas of the editor, Hester Maclean.
The most notable phase of Helen Inglis's period as secretary of the NZTNA was from 1929 to 1930. A bill permitting the training of nurses in private hospitals was introduced into Parliament in 1929. In the words of an editorial in Kai Tiaki, 'a bombshell was hurled which, had it exploded, would have been very disastrous to the Nursing Profession'. Nurses believed that private hospitals, with their preponderance of surgical cases, could not give probationer nurses satisfactory training in the nursing of children, the elderly, the chronically ill and patients with infectious diseases. Equally powerful seems to have been the fear that if the bill became law, nursing authorities in other countries might refuse to recognise the qualifications of New Zealand nurses.
Helen Inglis was the chief organiser of opposition to the bill. Many members of the House of Representatives and of the Legislative Council were interviewed by nurses and the support of women's organisations, particularly the National Council of Women of New Zealand, was gained. She herself went on a deputation to the minister of health, A. J. Stallworthy, and to the council of the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association at their conference in February 1930. The support of all branches of the nurses' association was enlisted.
In spite of the strong opposition which Helen Inglis was able to arouse, the Nurses and Midwives Registration Amendment Act, allowing the training of nurses in private hospitals, was passed in October 1930. But her work had ensured that certain vital safeguards were included. A private hospital would be allowed to train nurses only if it contained no fewer than 40 free beds. Moreover, the registration board, which included several nurses, was given additional powers over the conditions of training.
In recognition of her hard work in organising opposition to the bill, the NZTNA sent her a cheque to be spent on a holiday. After giving up active work for the nurses' association, Helen Inglis, who had never married, retired to Eastbourne. She died in Hutt Hospital on 12 February 1945.