Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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Abbott, Gertrude (1846 - 1934)


11 July 1846
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
12 May 1934
Strawberry Hills, New South Wales
Matron and Social worker
Alternative Names
  • Mother Abbott
  • O'Brien, Mary Jane (birth name)
  • Sister Ignatius (religious name)


Born in Sydney in 1846, Mary Jane O'Brien moved with her family to South Australia when she was two years old. In February 1868, taking the name Sister Ignatius of Jesus, she entered the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Catholic order founded at Penola two years earlier by Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison-Woods.

Caught up in a scandal which enveloped the order, but in which she was subsequnently proven to be blameless, Sister Ignatius left the order in July 1872, only four months after she had taken final vows, and returned to Sydney. There she became known as Mrs Gertrude or 'Mother' Abbott.

She leased a house in the Sydney suburb of Surrey Hills and gathered about her a group of pious women. They lived by dressmaking and adopted the rule of contemplative congregation, hoping that the Roman Catholic Church would give the group the status of a religious order. After Tenison-Woods's death in her care in 1889, she inherited his estate of £609.

It is reputed that in 1893 Mrs Abbott took in and cared for a pregnant girl brought to her by a policeman, an event that led to her establishing the St Margaret's Maternity Home at 561 Elizabeth Street, in the area known as Strawberry Hills. She ran what would become St Margaret's Hospital for Women, the third largest obstetric hospital in Sydney, for the next forty years.

Upon her death in 1934, she passed the Hospital into the hands of the Sisters of St Joseph.

Related entries

Related Organisations

  • Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart

    Mary O'Brien took her vows with the Sisters of St Jospeh of the Sacred Heart but left the order four months after doing so. She left St Margaret's Hospital for Women to the order when she died.

Archival resources

Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales

Nikki Henningham

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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ISSN 2207-3124