Female Firebrands and Reformers

Lucy Osborn (1835-1891)

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Lucy Osborn was the daughter of an Egyptologist. She was born in London, and as a young woman was said to be well educated and the "mistress of several languages". Lucy's main interest was in nursing. Against her family's wishes, Lucy attended the Florence Nightingale Training School attached to St Thomas' Hospital (1866), serving in both the men's and women's surgical, medical and accident wards.

When Henry Parkes, New South Wales politician (pre-Federation), was concerned about the state of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, he appealled for help to Florence Nightingale for trained nurses. Lucy was sent out as Lady Superintendant of the Infirmary and was accompanied by 5 other trained nurses (1868). Lucy won Parkes' trust completely and threw herself into the almost impossible task of cleaning up the crumbling, foul smelling and vermin infested Infirmary. Lucy met with opposition from doctors and the Board, and was often lonely and dispiritied, but she stuck to her task. Lucy was continually obstructed by the surgeons and personally attacked in the Parliament (1868-1870).

A royal commission (1873) on public charities condemened the Sydney Informary, accusing the mangement committee of neglect and interfering in the duties of the nurses - Lucy was vindicated and the commission praised her work toward the improvement in the standards of nursing. So after six years, she had partially succeeded in her task and improvements were slowly coming about (1874).

Lucy retired from nursing (1878) and four years later (1880) the Infirmary's name was changed to the Sydney Hospital - Lucy had achieved her objectives. She returned to London, England, where she died (1891).