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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Primrose, Maud Violet Florinda (1872–1954)

by Kerreen M. Reiger

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Maud Violet Florinda Primrose (1872-1954), nurse, was born on 31 July 1872 at Bendigo, Victoria, daughter of Robert Primrose, a Scottish-born mining legal manager, and his wife Maria Louise ('Maisie'), née Walsh, from London. Maud grew up on a farming property at Kerang with her sister Lilian. After nursing training at Wagga Wagga General Hospital, New South Wales, by her early twenties Maud had qualified as a trained nurse, and in dispensing and massage. Despite her youth, she was appointed matron, a post she held for seven years before returning to Victoria.

While working for a Melbourne doctor, Primrose promoted nursing as a profession, becoming involved in the (Royal) Victorian Trained Nurses' Association, formed in 1901. She was later made a life member of this association and of the Victorian Nursing Council. In 1909 she established and became honorary organizing secretary of the Visiting Trained Nurses' Association of Victoria, valuing the greater independence and initiative of visiting, compared with a fixed salary position. Her dynamism was often remarked upon and she was not afraid of controversy. As well as cycling to her patients, she was one of the first women in Melbourne to hold a motorcar driver's licence. Her growing interest in maternal and infant health led her to New Zealand about 1913 to undertake specialized training for a year from the Plunket Society at Dunedin, under the distinctive regime of (Sir) Frederic Truby King at Karitane.

Back in Melbourne, Primrose threw herself into what became her major life's work, the promotion of the Truby King method of caring for babies. With the support of her mentor Dr J. W. Springthorpe, between 1916 and 1920 she helped to establish the Society for the Health of Women and Children of Victoria—Plunket System. A rival to the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association, the first Truby King or Plunket infant welfare clinic opened at Coburg in 1919. Several other clinics followed, and specially trained mothercraft nurses also worked in private homes and gave advice in department stores. Trained at the Tweddle Hospital for Babies and School of Mothercraft from 1921, the nurses were formally named 'Primrose nurses'. In subsequent years the lively debates over the most appropriate regime for feeding and managing babies, particularly over the protein content of artificial milk formula, made infant welfare more like 'infant warfare'. Primrose founded the Truby King Mothercraft League of South Australia in October 1934 then returned to Victoria to run a hospital again at Kerang. Her influence continued in the mid-1930s through her articles on infant care in the New Idea and the Housewife, and radio broadcasts, 'The 3UZ Truby King Mother Craft Circle'.

Reports of Primrose's initiative as a pioneer nurse suggested her strength and determination, but her gentleness, mischievous nature, and personal warmth and affection for children belied the rigidity and discipline of the Truby King system. An attractive, strong woman, she was known as 'Sandy' by some family members because of her reddish hair. She also spent some time with her sister Lily and her family at their property near Balranald, New South Wales.

In Melbourne Miss Primrose lived quietly with her close friend and companion Gertrude Millar at Camberwell, and was involved in activities at her local Church of England. She died on 16 July 1954 in the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. A newspaper death notice inserted by patients and staff of Ward 9 at the Austin referred to their 'sweet memories', in tribute to a controversial and passionate advocate for mothers' and children's health.

Select Bibliography

  • Who’s Who in the World of Women (Melb, 1934)
  • M. King, Truby King (Lond, 1948)
  • K. M. Reiger, The Disenchantment of the Home (Melb, 1985)
  • P. Mein Smith, Mothers and King Baby (Lond, 1997)
  • Southern Sphere, 1 Feb 1911, p 18
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 10 Feb 1912, p 10
  • Society for the Health of Women and Children in Victoria minutes (Tweddle Hospital, Footscray, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kerreen M. Reiger, 'Primrose, Maud Violet Florinda (1872–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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