Crown Street Women’s Hospital – A historyThe history of Sydney’s pioneering maternity hospital is also a history of medical care for women in Australia, from the days of untrained midwives to alternative birthing units.
Crown Street Women’s Hospital was the largest maternity hospital in Australia. Situated in the heart of Surry Hills, it was the hospital where the poorest women in Sydney went to have their babies. Founded in 1893, it took in young women with nowhere else to go, and it had a long history of caring for Aboriginal women and babies, and later also immigrant women. In its final years, ‘Crown Street’ as it was affectionately known, made a name for itself treating drug-addicted pregnant women. Known from its early years as an innovative institution, some of Australia’s leading obstetricians, nurses were proud to work there, and it was the home of many innovations in women’s health such as Australia’s first alternative birth centre. When the decision was made to close it down, there was a public uproar and demonstrations in the streets. The history of Crown Street is the history of Sydney’s underbelly. From grief over forced adoptions, the steady stream of botched abortions, to the stories of women and babies restored to health, and of the staff and army of volunteers, we see the powerful role this single institution played in the lives of many women across the city.