Bethany Hospital was demolished for the extension of Victoria Street.
The Bethany Story
In 1914, the Salvation Army opened a Bethany Maternity Hospital at 18 Kensington Street, which was set back from the street at the end of a driveway. The building itself was constructed in 1902.
Prior to this the Salvation Army ran maternity homes in nearby Thompson Street, and Ellice street in Mount Victoria. Like its counterparts next door and across the street, 18 Kensington street was build as a residential dwelling, and the Army converted it to meet the requirements of a large private maternity hospital. The Department of Health frowned upon the conversion of domestic dwellings, describing the erection of purpose built hospitals as ideal. However they recognised the practicality of conversions and did not prevent them from happening.
Number 18 looked very similar to the rest of the villas in Kensington Street until 1914, when a two-storey addition was constructed on the west elevation. This provided more bedrooms on the ground floor, a large dormitory on the first floor, and a large verandah on the north elevation that serviced both floors.
From 1914 it was exclusively used as a place where unmarried mothers could stay for free. It was socially unacceptable to fall pregnant outside of marriage at this time, and women and girls tended to come and live at the hospital for some time before and after giving birth.
The maternity services offered by the Salvation Army had a strong religious basis. Its official policy on maternity hospitals made this clear:
… it cannot be too clearly stated that [the maternity hospitals] were originally opened for the succour and moral and spiritual reformation of the unmarried mother. This is still their first purpose and the unmarried mother must always have preference of admission over the private patient.
In order that our staff may have a reasonable opportunity of doing the spiritual work for which they have consecrated their lives, our rule is that the unmarried patient agrees to remain in the institution for a period of not less than three months after the birth of her little one – longer if possible – and also to confirm to the general rules of the hospital, which are supplied to all patients by the matron.
It must be remembered that we do not ask patients to enter our maternity hospitals though we receive them with open arms, but in coming they may only do so on the conditions stated.
As the second paragraph demonstrates, the nursing staff were members of the Salivation Army and their participation in the process of birth was not only professional, but spiritual.
Similarly, the hospital was used to train members of the organisation as maternity nurses, which distinguished Bethany from the private but secular maternity hospitals in the area that did not provide teaching services.
In 1936 a substantial new wing was added to the hospital, which housed private fee-paying patients, which at this time were married women. This addition, which increased the number of beds from 10 to 17, represented a change to the original function of Bethany. Essentially, the fee-paying women subsidised the care of their unmarried counterparts who were not in a position to pay for maternity services. The two groups of patients were strictly segregated – the policy quoted previously states “separate accommodation is maintained for the married and unmarried patients…. On no account may the two classes of patient occupy the same room…”
The fee-paying wing operated until 1971, when a day-care centre opened in its place. By this time private maternity hospitals were rare, and public hospitals provided the majority of birthing services. Changing social mores probably affected the service Bethany provided for unmarried mothers, who may have been less stigmatised by this period. In 1975, the Salvation Army surrendered Bethany’s hospital licence and it was deregistered by the Department of Health. This decision was based on two factors:
Because the Salvation Army for some time now has been experiencing a very low admission rate, it has decided that the maternity hospital [should] close. The decision to close was also based on the fact that the future plans for the motorway would have some effect on the hospital.
Bethany no longer provided full maternity services for unmarried women and was simply providing them with accommodation prior to birth, which took place elsewhere. Also, the proposed motorway was a live issue for Bethany, which found itself squarely within the designation, though the building was not purchased by the Roads Board. Nothing happened road-wise for 30 years, but the perception that the motorway was imminent became the Salvation Army’s reality. The hospital closed for good in 1984. In the end the building was acquired by the Wellington City Council and demolished ca.1985 to make way for the extension of Victoria Street south to Webb Street.
Source 'Heritage of health: a brief practice of medical practices, maternity homes and motorways in Te Aro, Wellington', by Kerryn Pollock and Natasha Naus, published in Wellington, NZ, 2006.
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