From what I can see, Americans and Aussies feel easy with each other. They
simply like each other and have for a very long time. We live with each
other in either country, often with greater ease than moving from one part
of our own country to another. At the time that I was asked to speak today,
I started to inquire about the formation of AWA. I eventually ended up with
Bronwyn Hewitt, the Hospital Archivist. She cautiously produced the first
Minute Book, in neat handwriting and beautiful script, which recorded the
beginnings of AWA. At the time it was for the Children's Hospital, as Royal
ascent was not given until 1963. I was not only interested in the Minute
Book but to try to get some insight as to how AWA was created and possible
some insight into it success. In the meanwhile, the minutes were pretty
good reading. And as with most historical information,everything is
different and yet the same. I thought that a brief review of the first set
of minutes in the early years of AWA might be of interest.
The first meeting was on 1 June 1931, which was the start of the depth of
the Depression. The first meeting elected Mrs. G. H. Peabody as President.
Entrance fees were set at 2/6d. The current equivalent in coinage to 25
cents with a monthly subscription of one shilling, or ten cents. It was a
modest beginning although a lot more than its current equivalent,
especially during the Depression.
It would appear that they were a rather lively group. The Minutes of 31
August state "A suggestion was made that it should be possible to play
bridge at our meeting. The dues would be increased to two shillings." The
AWA made a visit to the Hospital on 24 August 1931. As a result it was
decided unanimously to give as much money as possible to the Hospital for
maintenance,which at the time was very badly needed.
August 1932. As reported in a Melbourne newspaper--"Members have been that
the busy making pajamas, knitted jackets and bandages-- and it was decided
that the next donation should be 100 flannel shirts for the small patients
and flannel was distributed for this purpose. Afternoon tea was served at a
table which had a centre piece a large bowl of Iceland poppies." No details
were left out of the Minutes.
Sometimes, the work of the AWA was as basic as being asked to supply items
such as jams and babies bottles. As the Hospital came to recognize the new
resource, they began to ask the AWA for more favors. For many years,
several of the members were involved in the transportation of patients from
one part of Melbourne to another for treatment (e.g.. from Frankston
Orthopedic home to the Carlton Hospital). This was at a time when not
everyone had a car and so it really was a big ask. In November 1932, Mrs.
Hoyt moved that two shillings be collected from each member to buy
Christmas toys for the children. This is still done by the AWA today.
These were party girls. Planning for a bridge party commenced in June 1933
sold. At the Hotel Windsor. One hundred tables at one pound a table were to
be sold. A stall with cakes and sweets was planned as well as a raffle. "A
discussion followed whether we raffle a fur coat or a diamond and platinum
wristlet watch from Hardy Bros....a ballot was taken and the wristlet watch
had the majority."
Entry for May 1933...A request for the Hospital. Could the AWA assist in
selling flags on Empire Day?
The wife of the American Consul, Mrs. Margherita Pye, took the minutes for
several years and was President until her husband was given another
posting. She gave a journalist the scoop on the latest successful bridge
party. "Mrs. Walter Findlay took charge of the sale of candles and
cigarettes" (Lillian Frank needn't have been worried.)
April 1935 brings up the first mention of a ball. "A motion was made and
unanimously carried that the ball be held at the Palais de Danse, St. Kilda
on the 4th July and the tickets to be sold at 10/6d each". The profit was
317 pounds, eleven shillings and sixpence. Mr. Barrett, Secretary of the
Children's Hospital stated that the financial result of the 1936 ball was
as good as any effort made by an auxiliary for the Hospital. It went
towards the purchase of 6 new beds.
An interesting entry for October 1937 "Owing to the Infant Paralysis
epidemic, no meetings have been held for the past two months."
In October 1938, Lady Latham, the Hospital Chairman, addressed an AWA
meeting. She spoke of the "marvelous work of the Auxiliary and complimented
us on our wonderful effort of the Ball in raising so much money and thanked
us on behalf of the children...without our help and intense interest, (the
Hospital)could not carry on this work".
By 1938, the hospital had 448 beds. It was the largest children's hospital
in the British Empire. The 1939 ball, on the eve of war, was going to be
something special. By June, 1361 tickets had already been sold with 200
people on the waiting list. It was without doubt one of the premier events
on the social calendar. However, this ball was remembered for something
else. Some American flags, on loan from the American Consulate and General
Motors Holden, disappeared on the night of the ball. An appeal of the their
return was placed in "The Sun" and one was duly returned. By the end of
that year the AWA as able to present the Hospital with a check for 950
pounds. A fortune at the time in anyone's language.
The final entry for the Minute Book was recorded on 27 May 1940. As Mrs.
Pye left Australia, she expressed the following "that this work would
continue and grow as long as there were American residents in Melbourne." I
think in retrospect, she'd be pretty pleased.
The minutes therefore go up to the start of World War II. In his recent
historic compendium of the Children's Hospital, Peter Yule spoke about the
1930's and 1940's. The work of the Auxiliary was often covered in
newspapers and he points out that from the beginning, the AWA raised very
large sums of cash for the Hospital, inspired by the fundraising genius of
Marion Picot. The Auxiliary's 4th July Ball became one of the leading
events on the social calendar and the wartime sports meetings with the
American and Australian servicemen were very successful. By its 10th
anniversary, the AWA had raised 5,617 pounds,and in 1943/44 alone, it
raised 4,000 pounds.
In 1943, a "Sun" article described Marion Picot as well known in
philanthropic circles for her organizing ability, her charm and tact, and
her surprising energy. Interestingly, in December 1940 she was appointed
the Hospitals first Public Relations Officer. She was responsible for the
groundwork fora large scale public appeal, carrying out the public
relations through the press, contacting prospective donors and liaising
with all of the Auxiliaries. She remained in the position until 1948 at the
time of her husband s death when she returned to the United States. From
the start, AWA was a productive organization. Its members were influential
in Melbourne and always took their work seriously. Please accept the
children s Hospital s sincerest and most heartfelt appreciation for the
continuing good work of the American Women's Auxiliary.
Thank you to Barry Novy; Bronwyn Hewitt, the Hospital Archivist; Annie
Rahilly of the RCHF and Gigi Williams of the Educational Resource Centre
for helping us know more about our beginnings with the Royal Children's