Gladys Tanner

Gladys Evelyn Tanner was born in England in 1921. Her father was an Australian serviceman in the First World War, and her mother was an Englishwoman. The family returned to South Australia in the early 1920s and Gladys grew up and attended school in Adelaide.

After the death of her mother, Gladys cared for the family until she commenced nursing training at Naracoorte in 1940. She completed training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and remained on the staff of that hospital for four years before going to the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney for midwifery training.

On returning to the Royal Adelaide Hospital Gladys resumed her appointment as a charge nurse in a gynaecological ward but a few months later was given leave for a year to undertake the second Diploma in Nursing Administration course, conducted in Melbourne by the College of Nursing. In 1955 she was appointed Assistant Matron of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. After a year’s leave during which she travelled to England, and gained further experience in operating theatre nursing at the Chelsea Hospital for Women. Miss Tanner returned to the Adelaide Hospital as the Deputy Matron.

Gladys Tanner (front row, fourth from right), with other Staff Nurse’s in 1944.

In 1954 The Queen Elizabeth Hospital had opened as a maternity hospital, and in 1958 Gladys was appointed as the first matron of the whole hospital complex, which comprised a large general hospital, with an established midwifery department. The hospital received its first patients in March 1959. Prior to that time she was engaged in commissioning the hospital and selecting nursing  staff.

The establishment of the nursing staff was quite a process. I had to submit my plan of staff establishment. It had to  go through the various channels of getting approved, and then salary structures established, and eventually I had permission to advertise for the first time in December 1958, and we took patients in March 1959. I had, of course,  been interviewing, during my period of preparation, and I had a list of applicants and of course I had been interviewing prospective student nurses and it had been decided – or at least agreed to by the Nurses’ Board – that The Queen Elizabeth would be regarded as a training school from its commencement. So when I had the approval  go-ahead to make some appointments I felt that the first thing that I had to do was to get some student nurses in and give them some preparation. It was a very difficult start, looking back I am amazed at the way all the early staff rallied and coped with the situation so well.

Gladys Tanner, on selecting nursing staff for The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
HRH Queen Elizabeth II receiving a tour of TQEH during a visit on 21 Feb 1963. Accompanied by Matron Glady Tanner and KWG Treagus, Administrator.

For the next twenty three years Gladys was in charge of nursing at the 700-bed hospital. In addition to her nursing responsibilities at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, she was for twelve years a member of the Nurses’ Board. She was also a council member of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation and a member of the Nurse Administrators Section of that organisation. She was a Fellow of the College of Nursing, Australia. 

I have been, I think, a privileged person to have had the experience that I have. The last twenty-three and a half years of my nursing was at The Queen Elizabeth, when I had what I think of as a fairly unique experience of being involved in commissioning of a new hospital, and establishing the nursing service, and the development of the programmes within the hospital. I feel that it has been very rewarding. I’ve also, I think, been very privileged to have worked with so many people who I felt to have been fine people. I think when you work closely together, you learn from each other, and I think that this has been one of my enriching experiences.

Gladys Tanner, looking back on her time at TQEH

In 1982, after retirement from nursing, Miss Tanner was awarded membership of the Order of Australia for her services to nursing in South Australia. Gladys Tanner died on 30th January 1996.

Adapted from oral history with Gladys Tanner by Joan Durdin