Story: Anderson, Ellen Alice

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Anderson, Ellen Alice

1882–1978

District nurse

This biography, written by Suzanne Bowyer, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 4, 1998.

Ellen Alice Anderson was born in Eketahuna on 22 June 1882, the sixth child of Swedish immigrants Johanna Manson and her husband, Anders Anderson, a farmer. Her parents had arrived in the district in 1873 and her father, together with other Scandinavian settlers, had worked on the road and rail line, and cleared a 40-acre section on which he built a home for his family. Alice, as she was known, attended Eketahuna School, gaining her seventh standard certificate in 1897. In March 1899 she was confirmed by Frederick Wallis, bishop of Wellington, in the newly built St Cuthberts Church. She was to remain a staunch parishioner and generous benefactor of St Cuthberts throughout her life.

In August 1905 Alice Anderson was the second nurse to be enrolled at Masterton Hospital. The matron, Harriette Petremant, was not encouraging, wages were low (five shillings per week), the work was hard, and the conditions spartan. On the advice of the deputy inspector of hospitals, Grace Neill, Anderson transferred to Wellington District Hospital in February 1906. She earned nothing for three months, then 7s. 6d. per week. When she finished her training in 1909, Dr Stanley Brown, the senior house surgeon, described her as 'a capable, attentive and sympathetic nurse'. She went case nursing in Taranaki, the Marlborough Sounds, Marton, and then for five years in Eketahuna. Here she was associated with Dr J. P. S. Jamieson, whom she helped perform a wide variety of medical duties, including deliveries, appendectomies and amputations in the home.

In 1919 the Masterton Hospital Board appointed Alice Anderson district nurse at Eketahuna, where she worked for a further 14 years. Employed on a salary of £100 per annum, she nursed privately as well to supplement her income. She was cheerful, dedicated and had a colourful personality, characteristics which combined with her strong physique stood her in good stead throughout those years. The cases, although always under the supervision of the doctor, covered a wide variety of sickness, from measles to meningitis. Her diagnostic skills were legendary and she was reputed to tackle anything, including washing and scrubbing. When necessary she would sit through the night with her patient. An accident victim recalled her saying, 'Well, I don't think either of us are going to get any sleep. We might as well smoke'.

In 1931 Alice Anderson helped to transport victims of the Hawke's Bay earthquake to temporary hospitals, sometimes in Auckland. She retired from nursing in March 1935 and after a trip to England, continued her involvement with the Eketahuna community. She lived with her sister, Matilda, in the family home and kept up her interest in golf and croquet. The Women's Division Federated Farmers of New Zealand, Girl Guide movement and the New Zealand National Party took up much of her time. She gave generously to the New Zealand Returned Services' Association, participating in Anzac Day concerts and donating the lich-gate at the war memorial. To the local schools she contributed books and prizes in memory of her parents. Her collection of papers, clothes and antiques formed the basis for the Eketahuna museum, which was first established in her old home. She never married, and died in Palmerston North on 4 February 1978. Her long life had been one of service to nursing and to the community.

How to cite this page:

Suzanne Bowyer. 'Anderson, Ellen Alice', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4a12/anderson-ellen-alice (accessed 18 October 2017)