Sister Muriel Peck

Sister Muriel Peck was a pioneering nurse in the infant welfare movement in Victoria in the first half of the 20th century.

Honour Roll

Sister Muriel Peck, a pioneering nurse in the infant welfare movement in Victoria, was appointed Sister in Charge of the first Victorian Baby Health Clinic (VBHC) established in Richmond in 1917. This clinic resulted from the efforts of Dr Isabella Younger Ross, Mesdames Hemple and Ramsay and the Richmond City Council which initially provided space.

In conjunction with the subsequent emergence of several other inner city baby health clinics or centres, the Victorian Baby Health Centre Association (VBHCA) emerged. Sister Muriel's salary was soon to be paid by the Municipal Council, subsidised on a 50/50 basis by the State Government. Sister Muriel came well equipped for this pioneering position having augmented her Australian nursing qualifications with studies at the Royal Sanitary Institute in London. She also studied with Dr Eric Pritchard, Head of the Association of Schools for Mothers and Infant Consultations and leader during World War I of all the voluntary infant welfare organisations in England.

On Sister Muriel's return to Victoria before taking the Richmond job she had worked for the Talbot Institute, educating new mothers in their homes about how to ensure a safe supply of milk for their children, a challenging task in those days.

In 1920 she was appointed Matron of the newly opened VBHCA Training School for Infant Welfare Nurses, becoming the first nurse to be employed by the VBHCA. During this period she also travelled for the VBHCA, promoting its work in various contexts thus influencing the development of many pioneering infant welfare nurses and centres throughout Victoria.

Most well known perhaps is her contribution to lecturing and consulting with parents and children and advising mothers about their babies through the Women's Section of the Victorian Railways Better Farming Train. This train travelled regularly to many farming areas in Northern Victoria. Often as many as 800 people came to consult with her about their babies and attended the lectures and demonstrations she conducted in the train as it stopped at various stations.

In 1927, she joined the Victorian Public Health Department to become Assistant to the First Director of Infant Welfare, Dr Vera Scantlebury Brown, whose position had been established in October 1926. As well as her work on the train, she participated in important program planning and implementation. Sister Muriel continued her distinguished community education work across the burgeoning spectrum of infant welfare services. She also acted as an inspector, giving advice on buildings and equipment and maintaining open negotiations between the Health Department and the Municipal Councils.

Her publications Your Baby and Motherhood and its Preparation were widely consulted. According to an obituary published at the time of her death, she patented the widely acclaimed Baby Safe Cot and the CoolSafe for mothers without refrigeration in their homes.

In the early 1940s ill health led to her resignation from the Health Department. She died in 1947 after a lifetime of devotion to the well being of mothers and babies.