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In the nineteenth century, Matrons were appointed to various institutions to oversee their domestic arrangements. The New South Wales Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI) was governed by a Gentleman’s Committee, elected annually by subscribers, and a women’s committee, initially largely the wives of the gentlemen and referred to as the Ladies Visiting Committee (LVC), who directed the Matron in her duties.
At the DDBI, the Matron’s role had been spelt out in a report soon after its formation in 1862:
The domestic arrangements of the house are conducted by … the matron of the institution, who, under the direction of the ladies’ committee, superintends the internal affairs of the establishment; she also presides at table, accompanies the pupils in their walks, and regulates the general regime of the household.
Over time, this role would evolve in its complexity with the growth of the DDBI and with the increasing number of children under its care, but in essence, it remained the same. The Matron was required to keep a daily journal ‘of all proceedings in the house to be laid before the Committees at their meetings’, and on Sunday she was required to attend church with the children. Perhaps because of some unhappy incidents the by-laws, formulated a decade after the DDBI’s commencement, explicitly stated that ‘She shall treat the children with good nature and civility, and she shall never suffer any degree of cruelty, insolence or neglect in the servants towards them to pass unnoticed.’
Commentators were in no doubt that being the Matron of the DDBI was no easy task:
The post is a difficult one, requiring not only the kindly firmness necessary to the mistress of every such establishment, but an intimate knowledge of the peculiarities of the deaf and dumb – a knowledge which can only be acquired by long experience and patient observance.
Such a view emphasised just one of the relationships which made the role difficult. There were three relationships that were important and challenging for any Matron. Firstly, the relationship with the LVC to whom she was directly responsible and through them to the Gentleman’s Committee, secondly the relationship with the master in charge and other staff, and finally the relationship with the children themselves. The powerful LVC, under the influence of its long-time secretary Ann Goodlet, was probably the most important of these relationships and their attitudes about the Matron’s efficiency were formed by how well she administered the household. As part of the Matron’s administrative role the LVC were also concerned with staff relationships and how the children were treated.
No records of the LVC have survived, but the scope of their activities can be seen in their correspondence with the Gentleman’s Committee and the requests made by the Committee for the LVC’s assistance. Ann Goodlet, an active committee member from 1863, was appointed secretary of the LVC in 1873 and it is evident from the Committee’s minutes that she was most energetic in the pursuit of her duties. In this role, to which later was added that of president, Ann exercised great influence on the operations of the DDBI. The LVC was concerned with the selection and monitoring of the performance of the domestic staff. This included, most importantly, the appointment of the Matron, but it would appear to have even extended, on occasions, to the engagement of some of the teaching staff. The actual appointments were made by the Committee, but on the advice and recommendation of the LVC. Matrons seemed to have resigned to the LVC and such resignations were then forwarded to the directors. The views of the LVC, which were probably up to the end of the century largely those of their Secretary Mrs Goodlet, carried great weight and, on occasions, carried even greater weight than the judgement of their respected Superintendent, Samuel Watson.
Below are two tables which list Matrons from the commencement of the DDBI up to World War 1. One table is sorted by date of appointment the second by the age of the Matron at the time of her appointment. In the nineteenth century, (more…)