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Biographical entry Abbott, Gertrude (1846 - 1934)

11 July 1846
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
12 May 1934
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Medical administrator and Nun
Alternative Names
  • O'Brien, Mary Jane (Birth name)
  • Sister Ignatius of Jesus (Religious name)


Gertrude Abbott founded the St Margaret's Maternity Home (1894), which became the third largest obstetric hospital in Sydney. After Abbott's death the hospital passed to the Sisters of St Joseph. Gertrude Abbott was born Mary Jane O'Brien. In February 1868 she entered the religious Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and adopted the name Sister Ignatius of Jesus. She, along with another nun, claimed to witness visions, but it was later discovered that these manifestations had been faked by the other nun. Although Sister Ignatius of Jesus was not involved in the deception, she left the order in 1872 and adopted the name Mrs Gertrude Abbott.


For twenty years after leaving the convent, Gertrude Abbott unsuccessfully strove to get approval for an order of contemplative nuns. During this time, the women she had gathered supported themselves through dressmaking. However in 1889 Abbott's fortunes changed when she inherited the £609 estate of Julian Tenison-Woods. He was co-founder (with Mary McKillop) of the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and a major influence in Abbott's life. Abbott cared for Tenison-Woods until his death in 1889 and used the inheritance to set up St Margaret's Maternity Home at 561 Elizabeth St Sydney. The home "provide(d) shelter and care for unmarried girls of the comparatively respectable class" and was "unsectarian". Within two years the home had over 30 female patients (including at least 9 married), 3 midwifes and 8 trainee midwifes. Abbott ran the home then hospital for the next forty years. She got approval for Mass to be celebrated in the hospital chapel up to three times per week and introduced an outpatients department and a home-visiting service in 1904. The hospital moved to bigger premises in Bourke St, Sydney in 1910. Because it was not officially a Catholic institution, Abbott had to raise most of the funding herself, mostly through lotteries. After the death of long term colleague Sister Magdalen Foley in 1934, Abbott withdrew from the hospital administration. The hospital was handed over to the Sisters of St Joseph, in accordance with her wishes, after Gertrude Abbott died.


1868 - 1872
Career position - Nun in the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart
1872 - 1893
Career position - Dressmaking
Life event - Estate of Julian Tenison-Woods inherited
1893 - c. 1926
Career position - Founder and President of the managing committee and later Matron at St Margaret's Maternity Home
Career position - Outpatients department opened and shift to include treating 'diseases of women'
Career position - St Margaret's Maternity Hospital relocates to Bourke St in Sydney
Career position - First government subsidy (£250) received
Career position - Relinquished role of running the hospital
c. 1934
Career position - Hospital handed over to the Sisters of St Joseph

Archival resources

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

  • Gertrude Abbott - Records, 1894 - 1934; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details

Sisters of St Joseph, Nundah

  • Gertrude Abbott - Records; Sisters of St Joseph, Nundah. Details

Published resources

Encyclopedia of Australian Science Exhibitions

Book Sections


McCarthy, G.J & Annette Alafaci