Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Matron

This is a series of posts about Owatonna State School Museum (starting here), within a series of posts about our three week holiday in the US in June, which starts here.

The quality of life for the children at the State School seems to have depended upon what Matron was in charge of their care. 

The Matron's bedroom

Each cottage, housing from 25-31 children, had a live in Matron, whose responsibilities included

Keep children's clothing in good repair.  See that the children, beds, and their clothing were kept free from vermin and inspect and condemn any clothing, bedding, etc, before sending to rag room.

Ensure that each child receives a full body bath twice a week.

Ensure that beds are neatly made up by the children.

Ensure that every part of the Cottage is kept tidy and neat.

Ensure that children are never left alone for any great length of time, or in the care of another person.

Monitor that children were never sent to the city without permission of Superintendent.

Report children needing medical or surgical care at once to the resident physician.

As time and strength allow, assist children in preparing their school lessons, talk with them about the books they may be reading, and occasionally read interesting books or papers to the smaller children who cannot read intelligently.

Correct the bad habits of the children, and, by kind persuasion and example, awaken a desire for a higher and better life.

Teach the general principals of religion and some simple religious exercises should be observed every evening or mornings.  Sabbath school lessons should be thoroughly taught.

Monitor the children and do not allow them to remain out of doors during rainy weather and when the ground is very wet in the winter season.

Remain with the children when they are out of school and in the Cottage. 

Bill unkindly remarked on the disparities
between the mannequin and the photograph.

The displays in Cottage 11 describe Miss Morgan, but another display in the main building shows an old radio which belonged to a matron at the State School in the 1940s.  She allowed 'her boys' into her room to listen to radio programs with her.  It was considered an unusually generous thing to do and the boys remembered her kindness in sharing her radio. 

"Miss Morgan, Our Matron

It is believed Miss Morgan was the Cottage 11 Matron since it opened in 1923.  She remained in that capacity until 1945.  We boys remember an unattractive, single, middle-aged woman with red hair.  It seemed her entire life revolved around C-11.  To our knowledge she had no outside interestes, and rarely took a vaction.

Unlike the mother image she was expected to portray, Miss Morgan could be hard and cruel.  Only rarely could she be kind and compassionate.  To us boys, her greatest love was her dog Pal.  A strict disciplinarian, Miss Morgan never realised her actions could dictate a child's future.  Unfortunately, she touched the lives of hundreds of young boys."

Miss Morgan doesn't sound a very nice woman, but neither does she sound as though she had a particularly happy life herself.

A Mr. Harvey Ronglien, ward of the state from 1932-1943, narrates a number of videos and written pieces on display.  He recalls Miss Morgan having beaten him severely for not dressing with the appropriate tie for one occasion.  That said, he states that as a child he loved Miss Morgan.  He tells about discussing her with another former State Schooler at a re-union.  That man's view was that were Miss Morgan standing in front of him he would liked to have killed her, he still hated her so. 

I think this indicates that how a child fared in an orphanage depended also on their own emotional resilience, but of course one might or might not have that.  Harvey says children who came to the orphanage at an early age seemed to adapt more easily, having never known better.  Children who came into the home later in life found the institutional lifestyle very hard to accept.


Terri said...

After reading through the list of duties for a matron, it is simply an impossible job. I know that as a mother, I often felt overwhelmed by three young children. It is a job that would make anyone cruel.

Shelley said...

Terri - I agree; it's an impossible job. My definition of hell!

Rick Stone said...

Ever see the play/movie "Annie". I know it is fictional but I wonder how many of these Miss Hannigans wound up as matrons in an orphanage. Spinsters who had an unhappy life of their own. Not the best influence for children. Just a thought.

Shelley said...

Funny thing, I never have seen Annie - not the play at all, and only parts of the movie. I can't remember now if it's because I've never run across it at the library, because it didn't hold my interest or because I couldn't bear to watch it. Some films I just can't cope with.

Anonymous said...

I agree it's the luck of the draw, all matrons would be different. Even treatment under the same matron could vary for each child, a more attractive child may be treated better by some & we all remember the child who knew how to sweet talk (or suck up to)adults. Even those of us from happy homes could have a miserable time at school under a crabby teacher. Not all homes are happy either and some children may find life in an orphanage preferable to the home life they have. Children are so vulnerable that all of us who were born to or were chosen by loving parents were truly blessed.

Shelley said...

Sharon - That is so what I was thinking, how lucky I was to be raised by loving parents. But also, what a life my Dad escaped when Grandma and Grandpa took him away from this. They loved him to absolute bits and they loved me the same way. We were both, Daddy and I, really blessed. You are right, too, about pretty children and kids who know how to flatter - my Dad would have had no trouble on either account, but fortunately he didn't have to rely on those wiles!