Page 1: Biography
Jacobsen, Inger Kathrine
This biography, written by Christina Isabel Baldwin, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Inger Kathrine Nielsen was born on 5 September 1867, at Tyrsted, near Horsens, Denmark, to Mette Katharine Mikkelsen and her husband, Søren Nielsen, a farmer. Of nine children only Inger and her sister Dagmar survived. The family emigrated to Wellington, New Zealand, in 1874 and moved to a Foxton timber-mill where they built a pit-sawn timber cottage.
When Søren Nielsen lost a leg in a milling accident, eight-year-old Inger was sent into service in Palmerston North to support the family. Consequently, she had no schooling and never learnt to read or write; she supported her parents for the rest of their lives. When she was 18 Inger met Charles Leonard Jacobsen, a Swedish labourer who had earlier deserted his trading ship in the South Island. They were married in the Lutheran Church, Palmerston North, on 31 December 1885. After their marriage, Inger and Charles Jacobsen lived in various sawmilling districts before settling on a small block of land at Maharahara district in southern Hawke's Bay. Following a Christian revival in the area, in 1895 Inger and Charles joined an Open Brethren assembly.
Inger's interest in nursing possibly began with treatment of her 12 children. She developed a working knowledge of treatments for various ailments, and began to travel on horseback to attend the confinements of many local women. During the influenza epidemic in 1918 she took over the local hall and, using hot bran packs, nursed the sick on mattresses on the floor. It is said that not one person in Maharahara died of influenza. Inger Jacobsen also successfully healed serious illnesses such as rheumatic fever, and helped tuberculosis sufferers.
In 1920 the Jacobsens moved to Kihikihi in southern Waikato. Here Inger continued her midwifery and nursing, quickly developing a reputation as a reliable and competent midwife. She arrived at confinements with her gig and pony, and promptly boiled plenty of water to keep equipment sterile. She often tied a long piece of cloth right around the bed for the labouring woman to pull on when the contractions intensified. She was always calm and strong – even when one husband, a tough mill man wanting to help with his wife's labour, fainted on the bed.
In Kihikihi Inger met Dr Clough Blundell of Te Awamutu, and developed an excellent working relationship with him. As the demand for her services increased she began to take women into her own home for their confinement and two weeks' rest. One night during an emergency she helped Blundell remove a man's appendix on her kitchen table. The man was then tucked up to recover in the front bedroom, where a woman who had been delivered of her baby was also sleeping.
In 1904 Parliament passed the Midwives Act requiring midwives to be certificated and registered. For many years Inger Jacobsen ignored the regulations. However, following the passing of the Nurses and Midwives Registration Act 1925, Blundell asked her to register; she admitted that she could neither read nor write. In defiance of the law Blundell and other doctors apparently signed and verified a spurious midwifery certificate. Jacobsen continued to work as a midwife for several more years. It is said that no mother or baby died in any confinement which she attended.
Inger Jacobsen died in Kihikihi on 22 October 1939 survived by her husband and 11 of their children. Her legacy was the several hundred babies she delivered in the Maharahara and Kihikihi districts.