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Fanny Balmer was born at Auckland on the 21 August 1861, the fourth daughter of William and Margaret Balmer nee McIntosh.   Her father died while she was young, and in the mid 1870's with her mother and step-father Archibald Hamilton, the family moved to Marton, and later the Turakina Valley.


On the 1 July 1880, at the age of 19, Fanny married Henry Joseph McHugh, and then with her husband, farmed in the Turakina Valley where she also acted as a midwife and nurse.  In 1893, Fanny opened a general store in Turakina which she operated while her husband farmed their property.


When the Midwifes Registration Act was passed those who had several years experience were given their registration, but from there on, midwifes had to do hospital training. Fanny was registered on the 24 January 1906, and by 1907 Fanny (and Henry?) was running  'The Bungalow" Maternity Home at Manaia, with her daughter Gladys helping. This is now the Anglican vicarage in Ngatai St.


In 1915, Fanny joined up with Ettie Rout (of Christchurch) and the Voluntary Sisterhood.  These were a group of women who volunteered to go overseas without pay to help in hospitals, canteens, and anywhere that they could do something to improved conditions for the soldiers.  They were not welcomed by the army command, but went anyway.  The women had a great sense of purpose and determination to do what they considered in New Zealand, needed doing.


Fanny was determined to go, she knew some of the others, and had nothing to keep her at home.  Her husband had died, her five sons had all enlisted and gone to the front, (including Eric who was to die in France in March 1917) and her daughter was married.


Later, with Ada Ballantine, Fanny  did street patrol work in London under the auspices of the Women's International Street Patrol (WISP's).  This involved trying to separate men and women and avert sexual intercourse.  They would go up to young couples, tick them off about the dangers of  courtship and escort the women to the nearest homeward bound bus.


Fanny arrived back in New Zealand in the early 1920's and then joined the "Health Patrol" department of the Department of Health.  The Social Hygiene Act (1917) included regulations which provided for the employment of Health Patrols (female and aged over 40), two in each of the four main cities.  The job was largely to advise and warn women and young people of the dangers of VD and to encourage them to attend the free clinics at the hospitals for diagnosis and, if necessary, for treatment.  However, they were also supposed to walk the streets in order to suppress immoral and unsafe behaviour. 



Records suggest that these women did everything from routing young couples out of bushes for a lecture on proper conduct, to helping young mothers with babies, to locating possible VD cases and persuading them to go to the clinics, to supervising the picture theatres (checking behaviour of the young people and watching out for male perverts) and so on. 


Although the description may sound prudish, some of the records suggest that the women performed very useful work and were highly thought of at a local level. However the (male) Health Department officials tended not to take them seriously.


Most of the patrols were sacked around 1921 but Fanny was kept on owing to her experience at public speaking. She then toured the country as a "social hygiene" lecturer, as a continuation of her venereal disease prevention work. She spoke in Hawera on this in September 1920.


In 1926, Fanny went to Canada to visit two of her sons who had settled on Vancouver Island.  In her later years she lived with her daughter at Thames.


Fanny McHugh died on the 17 December 1943 aged 82 years, at St Stephen's Hospital, Bombay, Auckland.



Article "Our Sisters Overseas" by Jane Tolerton (More Magazine)

Sarah Dalton Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs

Jim Phillips (grandson)