Page 1: Biography
Chapman, Pansy Helen Auld
Hospital matron, nursing administrator
This biography, written by Linda Bryder, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Pansy Helen Auld Chapman was born at Blacks Point, Reefton, on 24 November 1892. Her parents, Hender Chapman, a miner, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Richards, were both from Cornwall. At the age of 19 Helen Chapman trained in Dunedin as a Karitane baby nurse. She then took her general nurse training in Christchurch, registering in January 1917, after which she was placed in charge of the children’s ward at Christchurch Hospital. In 1920, on completing her postgraduate Plunket training, Chapman became matron of the Christchurch Karitane hospital. She resigned in 1923 and in 1924 joined the staff of the Wellington branch of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Health of Women and Children (Plunket Society). For six months in 1925 she was acting matron of the Mothercraft Home, Wellington. She then resumed district Plunket nursing.
In 1930 Chapman was granted a year’s leave of absence to go to England. There she took charge of the out-patient department of the Mothercraft Training Centre at Cromwell House, London. It had been established in 1917 on similar lines to Plunket in New Zealand, with the advice of Truby King, the society’s founder. On her return home Chapman was appointed matron of Truby King Karitane Hospital at Melrose, Wellington. Then in mid 1931 she became acting charge nurse at the Auckland branch of the Plunket Society. Her appointment became permanent four years later.
Chapman ran the Plunket Society’s largest branch very successfully during a period of considerable expansion. From 1931 to 1951 the number of Plunket nurses under her direction expanded from 13 to 22. She was popular with the nurses, and her enthusiasm was noted by Helen Deem, Plunket’s medical adviser from 1939 to 1955, who commented that Chapman’s keenness 'adds a real fillip to my work’.
Taking charge of a metropolitan area during the depression of the 1930s was no easy task, with many cases of 'advanced malnutrition’ being drawn to the attention of the Plunket nurses. Chapman personally took responsibility for purchasing and bundling up food parcels for needy mothers. During the Second World War she organised emergency precautions to ensure the safety of Auckland’s mothers and babies in the event of an invasion.
Chapman had a particular interest in preschoolers. She believed this group fell through the net, as Plunket cared for the newborn and school medical officers examined schoolchildren. In 1941 she arranged for preschool children to be examined by Department of Health medical officers at the Auckland Plunket clinic. However, doctors’ attendance was irregular and Chapman regretted that more children were not examined.
In 1949 a scheme was launched to train medical students at the Auckland Plunket clinic, to be taught by Alice Bush, a paediatrician at Auckland’s Karitane Hospital and Mothercraft Home, and Chapman helped to organise it. In 1948 Helen Chapman was made an MBE for her services to the community. She remained sister in charge at Auckland Plunket headquarters until 1954. On her retirement it was recorded that, 'She was "borrowed’’ by Auckland [from Wellington] for six months but, acting evidently on the assumption that possession is nine points of the law, the Auckland society has managed to keep Miss Chapman for 23 years’. That year a new preschool room at the Auckland Plunket headquarters in Symonds Street was named the Helen Chapman Room in recognition of her many years of outstanding and devoted service. She maintained her interest in this area, organising Plunket exhibits for a preschool children’s week in Auckland in 1965. Keenly interested in painting, music and interior decorating, she spent more time pursuing these and influenced the colour schemes of many Plunket rooms in Auckland.
Helen Chapman never married. She died on 6 July 1973 at Auckland. She had helped Plunket to become a significant institution in New Zealand society, particularly in Auckland.