Book published on the history of nurse training in Aotearoa

23 May 2022

Dr Wendy Maddocks donates her book "The Right Girls a History of Registered Nurse Training at Palmerston North Hospital 1895-1986" to The University of Canterbury library.

  • Margaret Paterson Subject Librarian for Health Sciences and Dr Wendy Maddocks

    Margaret Paterson, Subject Librarian and Dr Wendy Maddocks, Senior Lecturer

Senior Lecturer, Dr Wendy Maddocks from UC’s Faculty of Health, was in the very last hospital based trained nursing class at Palmerston North Hospital, graduating in 1986. Since the 1970s nursing had moved away from the hospital based apprentice model to the education based polytechnic model.

As a lockdown project, Wendy started researching the history of the hospital-based training of registered nurses at Palmerston North Hospital.  The Matron of Palmerston North Hospital, Matron Dougherty was the very first nurse in the world to join the Nurses register in 1901, paving the way for future professionalism of nursing.

The book is “the Right Girls a History of Registered Nurse Training at Palmerston North Hospital 1895-1986.” Researching the book took Wendy and her research assistant (son) Nyle Maddocks-Hubbard to the National Archives, Military Archives Trentham, Palmerston North Library Heritage Archives, the David Warnock Medical Museum and finally after a year of search by a museum volunteer, hospital archives were located long forgotten in storage since the school closed. Wendy interviewed nurses from across the decades and drew on official documents, diaries, family archives and newspaper stories to piece together as much of the history as was possible to collect.

The book tells the stories of the evolution of training, discipline, welfare and the contribution of the local nurses to World Wars 1 and 2, some earning great distinction and one losing her life on the Marquette in 1918. Throughout the book the hard work, comradeship and sense of fun was apparent across the generations, along with the occasional ghost story. It also documents some of the impacts of changing polices affecting health care, from cost cutting post war paper reduction, and the effects of neoliberalism, when biscuits were removed from staff morning tea.

Despite the title “The Right Girls”, which was a term used through hospital correspondence about attracting the right sort of girls to training, a whole chapter is devoted to the post war evolution of male nursing, the strength of the male nurses’ union, and a highly contentious issues of them being paid more and working shorter days.

Whether you have connection to Palmerston north Hospital or not, the book provides an interesting narrative down of New Zealand nursing history at a major teaching hospital and is supported with many previously unseen photos.

The book can be purchased from or visit the Facebook page

Contact Wendy Maddocks 02102701241 email