Vera Jane Ellis-Crowther was born in Liverpool on 27th August 1897. She emigrated to New Zealand in her twenties and became a prominent, pioneering midwife and feminist.
Her parents were Joseph Hodgson, a grocer’s assistant, and his wife Jane (née Hayes). At the time of Vera’s birth the family (Vera was the oldest of nine children) lived in Toxteth at 28 Fernie Street L8 (now demolished), moving to 25 Enid Street L8 by the time of the 1901 census. By 1911 they had moved to Seacombe on the Wirral.
After living in the east end of London for six months she returned to Liverpool and in 1923 she married Harry Linton Crowther, a chemist. Linton’s father edited a Labour Party newspaper and Vera began her lifelong commitment to socialism. The following year they emigrated to New Zealand. The couple bought a farm at Maramarua but sadly her husband was killed in a truck accident in 1932. Vera subsequently bought an orchard at Glen Eden, West Auckland and decided to retrain as a nurse and midwife. She became a forceful voice in support of the use of anaesthetics in childbirth, opposed by doctors (predominantly male) who advocated anaesthesia-free natural childbirth.
In 1945 she opened the Waitemata Obstetric Hospital on her land at Glen Eden. When the hospital building was not ready at the time set for opening she operated out of disused railway carriages. She sold the hospital in 1954, returning to England for a period, before resuming her work as a midwife in Auckland. Later in life she was drawn to the home birth movement and by the time of her retirement in 1974, aged 79, she had delivered over 1,000 home birth babies. She died in Auckland on 6th July 1983 aged 85.
Her daughter Joan, was born in New Zealand in 1929. In 1941 she married her second husband, David Ellis.
The Hodgson family home at the time of Vera's birth - the street has since been demolished.
The Hodgson family home c.1901
There is not a great deal of material on Vera Ellis-Crowther but the Wikipedia entry is a reasonable pen-picture. There is some biographical data on a page on the Auckland library website. There is the report of an interview with her in the September 1976 issue of the New Zealand feminist publication Broadsheet which can be viewed online.
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