The Girls' Memorial Home, a maternity home run by Wesley Central Mission, opened in 1922 in Fairfield.
Funds for the purchase of the property came from money inherited by Dr Georgina Sweet from her father. The home was situated in 'Carmelea', a building in Station Street, Fairfield that had formerly been the home of chocolate manufacturer, MacPherson Robertson.
The Memorial Home was a maternity home for single pregnant women. A.J. Derrick, the organising secretary of the Central Mission, noted that the Home 'would not actually bear that name', but would be known as the 'Central Mission Girls' Memorial Home'.
In its Annual Report from 1922, the Mission portrayed a genteel image of the Memorial Home and its inhabitants. The purpose of the Home was described as:
'to help girls who, having been wronged, or tempted to mistake, and consequent trouble, have still their better nature uppermost, and if given timely aid and sympathy, will turn their faces again to the path of virtue and goodness … The home is not for the habitual sinners or the hardened wrongdoers … The Girls' Home will do its best work by being so far exclusive that daughters of Methodist and other respectable homes in such distress will find conditions that will not degrade but will uplift and help.'
The women living in the Home were housed in large dormitories. It had capacity for around 25 women. Women generally came in the late stages of pregnancy, and their babies were delivered at the Women's Hospital.
Swain and Howe's history of the Mission includes the reminiscences of a former resident of her time in this 'stately home':
'Big grounds. I mean I love old homes and gardens and things but that was just, you know, walking into this place and shutting the gate and that was it until it was over … The staircase … Everybody remembers that staircase. We all had to clean it.'
A doctor visiting the Home in 1936 expressed his concern about the women and babies there:
'I regret I have to state that the atmosphere of the whole place at present is a reflection on a religious institution, the girls are miserable, look underfed and over-worked, and the babies show obvious signs of neglect … I find that my instructions with regard to rest and diet are rarely if ever carried out.'
Another comment by a former resident contradicts the image of the Home put out by the Mission - she felt that the women were treated 'like we had committed a dreadful crime'.
With the passage of the Adoption Act in 1928, the Memorial Home became a 'supplier' of babies to the Methodist Babies' Home in South Yarra.
A report in 1970 to the Executive Committee of the Mission made reference to changing social attitudes towards single mothers, meaning that the Home could 'no longer pay its way'.
In 1973, the Home ceased operations. It became Georgina House, a refuge for victims of domestic violence. This service closed in 1989.
Wesley Mission Melbourne is the custodian of records of the Girls' Memorial Home. Records are also kept at Connections UnitingCare.
31 October 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000139
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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