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Historic Hospital Admission Records Project

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow

Mrs Louisa Harbin

The Directors started planning for the recruitment of medical staff and for a Matron in March 1882, fully recognising that this was of "very great importance and might take a considerable time".

A Matron and Medical Committee was set up, and, after investigating employment conditions for Matrons elsewhere, advertised for a Lady Superintendent at the salary of £80 per annum, plus board, lodging and laundry allowance. The features considered necessary were:

  1. It is desirable that an educated lady be appointed

  2. That she be experienced both as a Nurse and Lady Superintendent and Housekeeper

  3. That if she has experience of a Sick Children's Hospital a preference would be given

  4. That her age be from 30 to 40 years, not exceeding the latter.

Thirty four applications for the post were received and from these, three potential candidates for the post were considered by the General Committee. The Directors took their role seriously. Mr Whitelaw, the Convener, went to visit the three ladies and recommended the appointment of Mrs Harbin, age 34, who had worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital as a Linen Sister, and was currently at Leicester Infirmary. In addition, two other directors reported favourably on her. Dr Russell had seen Mrs Harbin at Leicester and "was very well pleased with the cleanly and orderly state of her wards". "Mrs Harbin's personal appearance and manners were agreeable, she was smart and active".

Mrs Harbin took up her post on 1 July 1882, which gave her about six months to get the hospital ready for opening. She had quarters in the hospital, described in the first annual report as: "The gas supply for the whole Hospital is so arranged as to be controlled from a closet off the Lady Superintendent's bedroom. By means of speaking tubes in her sitting-room and bedroom she can communicate by day or by night with the various Wards, and also with Kitchen, Laundry, and Servants' and Nurses' apartments. By these means quietness is secured and labour saved in management"

Her duties were outlined in a letter from the Secretary.

"… to take the general management of the Hospital. In particular to receive and give out stores -to have the care of the linen -to attend at all surgical operations in the Hospital -to take the superintendence of the Nursing with power to you to engage and dismiss the nurses and servants employed in the Hospital: and generally to do all in your power towards the good order of the house and the welfare of the Hospital." She was also to visit the wards at least twice a day.

In 1884 a long list of her duties was drawn up, to tighten up the procedures regarding supplies, stores and domestic staff. This was in the aftermath of the cook being prosecuted and jailed for taking home clothes donated to the hospital for the patients, food, milk, and also allowing her unemployed husband to have his dinner at the hospital.

Mrs Harbin seems to have been a good manager of the hospital and did her best to improve the working and living conditions of her nurses, working with the Ladies Committee and the Directors to achieve changes. In particular, she helped to increase the nurses' bedrooms and improved facilities, in the Scott Street building, and also a new nurses' home attached to the Dispensary. With the help of the Ladies Committee, she managed to obtain a piano, furniture, books and other items for the nurses' sitting room.

Mrs Harbin's responsibilities grew with the opening of the Dispensary in 1888 and the Country Branch in 1903. Although there were sisters in charge of these, Mrs Harbin had ultimate responsibility for the nursing and domestic staff. She resigned in 1903 after twenty years in the post, citing that: "The work having so much increased, I find my strength inadequate for the strain which it involves. I should have resigned last year, but desired to see the completion of the Country Branch."

She moved back to England and was still alive when the hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary.