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Myrtle Searle

Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women logo

Awarded for service to Health

Born: 1892

Died: Unknown

Entered on roll: 2009

Myrtle Searle was born in 1892. She registered as a midwife in Victoria in 1917. In 1918, she arrived in Launceston at the age of 26 to take on the role of one of the first two child welfare nurses in Tasmania. She was to become a pioneer in the field of child and family health nursing.

Myrtle was employed to try to curb the infant mortality rate by educating mothers on the proper care of babies and children. Six weeks into her employment, the Examiner reported that Myrtle had made 26 home visits, seen 17 women in her clinic and provided another seven women with antenatal advice.

The annual reports submitted by Myrtle Searle and her Hobart colleague, Laura Richardson, show they firmly believed that education in nutrition, hygiene, the importance of breastfeeding and modern baby care would achieve the goal of lowering infant mortality and child morbidity.

In 1919, when the Spanish Flu reached Tasmania, the Department of Health diverted Myrtle from her usual duties to coordinate nursing services for flu victims. She was responsible for the distribution of food, milk, blankets and firewood as well as organising home nursing for the sick. By the time the epidemic waned, Myrtle had entered hundreds of poor households, nursing individuals and families in overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions.

Myrtle was interviewed by the Examiner at the end of the epidemic and was outspoken about the need for improved housing and sanitation, recognising the link between socio-economic circumstances and health.

Once the epidemic had passed, Myrtle returned to child welfare nursing and even travelled to New Zealand to study the Truby King System at the Karitane Mothercraft Home in Dunedin.

Myrtle’s tenure in Tasmania finished in 1922 and nothing is known of her after she moved to London in the mid 1920s.

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