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The Bethany Centre for Girls

Babies at the Bethany Centre

Rescue homes for girls of the pioneer era merged into a chain of maternity hospitals catering for both private patients and unmarried mothers during the inter-war period. Many post-war aspects such as expanding public hospitals and the increasing social acceptance of unmarried mothers brought considerable changes to these facilities.

There were seven Bethany homes—in Auckland, Russell, Gisborne, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin—but the number of hospitals has reduced to one. The rise in the illegitimacy rate, together with the drop in the age of unmarried mothers necessitated a new approach.

This was exemplified by Major Eunice Eichler at the Bethany Centre for Girls in Auckland, where it ran a comprehensive education, recreation, social and therapeutic programme catering for young women facing unwed motherhood.

Due to the introduction of the Domestic Purpose Benefit in 1973, and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortions Acts of 1977, there was a considerable change in clientele.

The hospital wing was closed in 1976 and the nurses’ home was empty. By the 1990s, it had become accommodation for pregnant women aged 16 and over. There were no longer dormitories. Each woman had her own single room.

In 1989, the Bethany Centre was in the forefront of the ‘open adoption’ practice, as it is now—although today adoption has become a less considered option.

The Bethany Centre in Auckland was the last remaining Salvation Army maternity centre. And although it is no longer a hospital, its role remained the same as it was 110 years ago—to educate and support young, single pregnant women and those with newborn babies.