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The Sydney Female Mission Home

The Sydney Female Mission Home (SFMH), not to be confused with the Sydney Female Refuge Society (SFRS), was commenced on November 17, 1873, in rented premises overlooking Hyde Park, Sydney.[1] Like the SFRS, this charity falls in a number of places on the philanthropic spectrum being both for relief and improvement. The SFMH was a protestant organisation providing short-term accommodation for pregnant unmarried women and it had a non-sectarian admission policy.[2] It was said that the ‘necessity of such a Home has been strongly felt by several ladies and gentlemen, in consequence of facts which frequently come under their notice.’[3] The Home was entirely run and governed by women and of the 14 members of the founding Committee, no fewer than eight were involved with the SFRS. It is likely that, from this experience, they understood the need for an organisation with a different intake and policy than that of the SFRS.[4]

While the task of the SFRS was to provide a refuge for prostitutes, the purpose of the SFMH was to provide temporary accommodation ‘for women who either had fallen, or were in danger of falling from virtue’.[5] The initial focus of the work was to be on those young women who found themselves pregnant and abandoned, most of whom were ‘women who have only taken one serious wrong step, and have not been hardened in sin’. In the assessment of the Committee, an institution such as the SFMH met ‘a great social necessity’ and was ‘an unspeakable blessing to weak women who have fallen prey to the cunning devices of unprincipled men’.[6]

Darlington House, Newtown Road, Sydney ( State Library of Victoria)

The needs that were presented to the Committee shortly after the Home opened caused them to change the Admission Policy. It was changed to include not only pregnant unmarried women, but some unmarried mothers with their infants, many of whom were in a state of destitution.[7]  In the first year of its operation the Home had 115 admissions which included 11 infants, and by the end of 1874 it was thought that a larger house, which could accommodate more than 12 residents, was required to meet the needs, as many young women with babies had to be turned away.[8] For those admitted, attempts were made to locate the fathers of the children so that they could ‘feel their responsibility to make some provision for the maintenance of their offspring’.[9] These attempts rarely met with success and as a result the Committee lamented that ‘the seduced, and less guilty, has to bear the whole burden’.[10] They also made efforts to ensure that either the young women returned to their families or, if this was not possible, they sought to gain employment situations for the women where they could keep and nurture their children. A fundamental principle of the SFMH was to ‘avoid, if possible, separating mother and child’[11] and the Committee

being decidedly of [the] opinion that the mother is the natural and fittest guardian of the infant … used their utmost endeavours in all cases to induce the mothers to faithfully fulfil their maternal duties, and not, under any circumstances, to give up their babes to the care of strangers.[12]

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