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Historic Hospital Admission Records Project

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow

Miss Julia Simpson, Matron at Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, 1903-1916

When Mrs Harbin resigned, the directors advertised for a new Matron.

A committee, comprising ten directors, including Mrs Bannatyne (vice-president of the Ladies' Committee) was convened to consider the applicants. Five were selected to form a short list, and Miss Julia Simpson, who had trained at the RHSC and was currently the Home Sister, was appointed.

Miss Simpson came to the Hospital from Sefton Park, Liverpool, in 1891 to train as a children's nurse. She was 22 years old. Her training lasted three years, and Mrs Harbin commented in the nurses' register that she was a 'good surgical nurse'. In 1894 she left to go to King's College, London, where for three more years she took her general training. Her first position as sister was in the Children's Hospital Liverpool, where she remained for another three years. After a further year at Bristol Royal Infirmary she returned to Glasgow, as Home Sister at the RHSC on 2 March 1903, and was appointed Matron on 2nd April, at a salary of £90, plus board and lodging.

During her time as Matron, not only did she have to supervise the running of the RHSC, Dispensary and Country Branch, and the nursing and domestic staff, but she also assisted with the planning for the new hospital at Yorkhill, and the removal there in 1914, which was accomplished in three days. The Directors duly acknowledged her work when she left in 1916:

"They desire to place on record their sincere appreciation of her willing and capable service, referring specially to her conduct of the old Hospital, where she was practically sole administrator, to the able way in which she arranged for the transfer of the work of the Hospital as a going concern, staff, patients, and equipment from the old Hospital to the new, and to her organisation in the new Hospital of the work falling within the Matron's sphere."

Both Mrs Harbin and Miss Simpson actively tried to improve the living conditions of their nurses, but it wasn't until the new 200 bed hospital was built at Yorkhill, on an open elevated site in the west end, that the improvements they had wanted were achieved. In the old hospital nurse accommodation consisted of ten rooms in the Dispensary building, with the rest of the nurses being spread throughout the building wherever there was a little space. Even so, some nurses, very unsatisfactorily, had to be accommodated outside. The new Hospital provided the Matron's quarters and a nurses' home located within the Administrative Block, separate from the wards. This included sisters' rooms, a nurses' drawing room and writing room, which could be made into one for special occasions, and a visitors' room. Nurses' bedrooms were located in the three upper storeys. Dining-rooms for nurses and residents were on the ground floor at the other end of the conservatory. By 1915 staff tennis courts were also ready for use.

On 23 Nov 1909 a feature about Miss Simpson and her work at RHSC appeared in the Glasgow News, including photographs of Miss Simpson with a visiting lion cub. IN the article she was described asa woman 'whose sympathetic and charming manner make her admirably fitted to be head of an institution of children'.

Miss Simpson's time at RHSC did not always go smoothly with the directors and the medical staff and she received reprimands for exceeding her authority. Although she had responsibility for the nursing staff and domestic affairs, she still had to consult the House Committee and the directors over matters of importance and could not always act on her own initiative.

In 1904 she was reprimanded twice by the directors for writing to the Matron and Secretary of Ravenscraig Convalescent Home without consulting the House Committee first or reporting the matter to the Honorary Secretary. The chairman was asked 'to impress upon her that they [the directors] consider it essential to the interests of the Hospital that the greatest tact and courtesy should by exercised by the Hospital Officials in all circumstances.'

In 1909 resident medical officers complained to the House Committee that the Matron was opening letters intended for them. The Chairman resolved this matter by ensuring letters were handed over directly to the intended recpients in future.

In 1912 it would also seem that relations between Miss Simpson and one of the medical residents, Dr Glover, had broken down. This time it seemed to be the doctors who was in error, as his appointment was continued for a further six month period subject to providing 'an assurance that he would do all in his power to promote pleasant and cordial relationships between the Matron and the residents & prevent friction and unpleasantness in any shape or form.'

The removal to the new RHSC took place between 1 and 3 Sept 1914, after war had been declared. Miss Simpson must have been under a great deal of stress between 1914 and 1916, attempting to keep the large hospital running normally in wartime. She had to cope with mounting problems caused by staff shortages and procedures not being followed properly. There were repeated changes of use: some wards providing first of all for children evacuated from Stobhill Hospital and then for wounded officers from 1915. The separate arrangements needed for military medical and nursing personnel caused friction threats.

The final straw came for her Aug 1916 when the House Committee had 'to send a letter to the Matron taking exception to various matters in connection with the supervision of the Nursing and Domestic Staff and the cleaning of the Hospital'. She resigned a few months later. The directors tried to persuade her that the current difficulties were temporary, due to the war, but she would not change her mind. Indicating how highly regarded she was by her nurses, 59 signed a petition to the directors asking them to reconsider her resignation.

Miss Cameron, the next Matron, improved the staffing levels significantly, introducing separate superintendents for the kitchen and laundry, instead of just one; one sister for each ward, instead of one sister between two wards; and appointing an Assistant Matron and a Home Sister. Perhaps if Miss Simpson had had these extra staff to help her, she might not have felt the need to leave.