Caroline Frost

Photo:"Slum Sisters" went from door to door, visiting the poor and the sick

"Slum Sisters" went from door to door, visiting the poor and the sick

© unknown

Photo:Poor and socially outcast women were a focus of Caroline Frost's work

Poor and socially outcast women were a focus of Caroline Frost's work

© unknown

The Salvation accoucheuse
By Natasha Lewer

Channel Island beginnings 

Living quietly in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, with her much older ex-military husband, the young midwife Caroline Frost couldn't have suspected the leading role she would go on to play in the Salvation Army's social welfare work.  

It was after she and her husband became Salvationists that she first began to take into their home young women who had become pregnant and had nowhere else to turn. The were encouraged, by Caroline, to stay with the Frosts before being sent on to England to give birth in a Salvation Army rescue home.  

A miniature receiving home

On a visit to the island in 1886, Florence Soper Booth - Head of the Salvation Army's Women's Social Work - was impressed by the way that Caroline had voluntarily set up this "miniature receiving home", and invited her to come, with her husband, to London to help her organise the new area of so-called "rescue work" for unmarried mothers.  

Six weeks later, in the autumn of 1886, Caroline Frost was living at 52 Blenheim Street, Chelsea. This became the Salvation Army's first home for unmarried mothers. Salvation officers, including Caroline herself, actively went out looking for women to be rescued "at Charing Cross and elsewhere". The first baby was born in the Chelsea home, attended by Caroline, on 24 February 1887.  

Click here to find out more about the Salvation Army's rescue work.

From Chelsea to Mare Street

Caroline became the chief "salvation accoucheuse", or midwife, moving from the Chelsea home to Pimlico and then, in January 1889, to Brent House, in what is now Brenthouse Road, in Hackney.  

Brent House was the forerunner of Ivy House - the Salvation Army's first maternity home, to where Caroline moved the following year. Ivy House opened in June 1890, with room for 21 unmarried mothers and their babies; and soon there were also five nurses and six trainee midwives under Caroline Frost's supervision.  

Over the next four years, Ivy House developed from a maternity home into a fully-fledged maternity hospital. In 1894 Caroline Frost handed over her responsibilities at Ivy House to the new matron, Annie Sowden, and moved on to develop a new project known as 'Slum Maternity Work'.

Click here to read more about Ivy House . 

The Mother and her Slum Sisters

Caroline (referred to simply as "the Mother" by those in her charge) and her team of midwives (sometimes known as the "Slum Sisters") were based in Tudor Road, off Mare Street. At first they concentrated on maternity cases in the deprived local community, but this soon expanded to more general nursing. Keen to extend their medical training, the midwives sat in on lectures at the London Hospital, and soon the title 'Slum Maternity Work' became more widely known as 'District Nursing'.  

Click here to read more about slum sisters in Hackney.

"A lovely, unselfish life"  

A contemporary description of Caroline calls her "a handsome, motherly-looking woman of perhaps 40 years. Her lovely, unselfish life has traced upon her face the tender sympathetic lines, indicative of the highest type of womanhood." The writer goes on to praise her intelligence and drive: "But back of this womanly exterior is the brain force and executive ability of a man. In terse, straightforward language she discourses enthusiastically of her work."    

Caroline Frost was undoubtedly a forceful and inspiring figure. From small-scale acts of kindness in Guernsey, she went on to help lay the foundations of a system whereby professional maternity care was accessible to all, and medical care was available in even the most deprived communities. She didn't stop there: having set up the district nursing post in Hackney, and having risen in the Salvation Army ranks from Captain to Adjutant, she moved in late 1897 to New York to set up a training school for district nurses and to continue her work on a whole new continent.  

Click here to read about Caroline Frost's arrival in New York in the Ludington Daily News of 13 January 1898, and to see a contemporary drawing of her.






Image of slum sisters reproduced courtesy of Line drawing reproduced courtesy of


This page was added by Natasha Lewer on 14/07/2009.

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