Margaret Peters OAM – Inaugural President ACMI 1978 – 1983
Margaret Peters completed her nursing training at the West Gippsland Hospital in Warragul in 1957. In 1958, she undertook her midwifery training at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Once registered as a midwife, Margaret returned to the West Gippsland Hospital, working there for a few years before travelling to the UK in 1961-1962. Over that time Margaret was able to combine working in various jobs with experiencing all that the UK and Europe could offer.
After return to Victoria in 1963 she took up a position to at the Mirboo North and District Bush Nursing Hospital. Later that year she undertook her Infant Welfare education and training at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Melbourne.
With the values, experiences and understanding from growing up and working in a rural area, coupled with her experiences of city life in Melbourne and London and travelling through the UK and Europe, Margaret came back to midwifery and women’s health at The Royal Hospital for Women in Melbourne. Her interest in midwifery and women’s and children’s health kept her there, working in a number of different roles over the next 33 years, eventually retiring in 1997, from the Deputy Director of Nursing role.
For 50 years, Margaret has been instrumental in a series of initiatives that enabled midwifery to emerge as a separate profession to nursing, and which led to the development of the Australian College of Midwives:
· 1966: Margaret joined the Midwifery Special Interest Group, (SIG) of the Victorian branch of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation (RANF)
· 1975: Margaret was sponsored by the Royal Womens Hospital to undertake a three month international study tour including attendance at the 17th International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she met Pam Hayes from NSW Midwifery SIG. They were surprised that Australia had been previously admitted as a member of ICM in 1972. (The RANF had applied for admission to ICM unbeknown to the State Midwifery SIGs): the person on the program representing Australian midwifery was not chosen by midwives. When the Australians at the ICM Congress met for a group photo they agreed that Australian midwives should form their own national midwifery organization.
· Following a number of meetings with midwives from many states in March 1978, at a meeting in Adelaide, with representatives from SA, NSW, Victoria and Queensland a constitution was agreed and it was resolved to form the National Midwives Association (NMA), as a Midwifery Special Interest Group of Federal RANF. Margaret was elected as the Inaugural President of NMA, a position she held until 1983.
· During Margaret’s presidency significant change and progress was made in establishing and shaping the National Midwives Association as it evolved over the years to become the Australian College of Midwives.
· 1978: Together with Pam Hayes, Margaret attended the 18th ICM Congress in Jerusalem to find representing Australia in the Council meeting a midwife who was not a member and whom had been nominated by RANF.
· 1979: the first National Conference of the NMA was held in Adelaide and was attended by 400 midwives from around Australia. Over the next few years there was a focus on establishing a Midwifery SIG in every Australian state and territory. In 1982, Margaret notified the Federal RANF that the NMA had an active Branch in each State and Territory
· 1981: the NMA resolved that, at the 19th ICM Congress to be held in Brighton in the UK, Australia would bid to hold the 20th ICM Congress in Sydney, in 1984. This bid was successful and under Margaret’s Presidency the necessary work began. Margaret was nominated as the President of ICM, once that bid was successful. The practice at that time, within ICM, was that the host nation for the next ICM Congress nominated the President of ICM, for the period leading to the actual Congress in their country.
· 1983: at the 3rd Biennial National Conference of NMA (RANF) in Canberra, a motion was passed unanimously to secede from RANF and to be known simply as the National Midwives Association. Margaret’s term as President of the NMA ended, but not her involvement. She continued as President of ICM, and chaired the organising committee for the 1984 ICM Congress.
· 1984: The 20th ICM Congress was held in Sydney in September. This was the first ICM Congress held in the Asia Pacific area and was a professional and financial success, launching Australian midwifery onto the world stage and significantly, within Australia
· 1985: After the 1984 ICM Congress in Sydney, Margaret together with Pam Hayes from NSW (then President of NMA) after returning to each branch the funds they had raised to support the Congress and with the agreement of the organizing Committee used some of the profits from the Sydney Congress to establish the Australian Midwifery Scholarship Foundation (AMSF) to support midwives undertake research, professional development and the attendance of midwives from less developed nations at NMA conferences. A substantial donation was also made to ICM.
Margaret’s commitment to midwifery and women’s and children’s health continued to drive her and after the ICM Congress in Sydney, she continued her professional activities in the ICM. Between 1984 and 1999, she was Deputy Director and then Director of ICM. She also held a number of positions in UNICEF Australia between1988 -1996 including that of President from 1988 -1993. Between 1992 and 1995 she chaired the National Steering Group for the Baby Hospital Initiative which led to UNICEF transferring responsibility for it to the ACM.
Across her whole professional life and beyond, a period stretching more than 50 years, Margaret has continued to work for the benefit of women and their children, with her participation in many study tours, national and international technical advisory committees, and workshops, conferences and working parties convened by a range of organisations. Besides the ICM these organisations include: the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the Alukara Working Group, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the Royal College of Midwives, the International Interagency group for Safe Motherhood, the Victorian Government, RANZCOG and a number of Victorian universities. She was the first non medical appointee to the NHMRC between 1985 -1990.
Margaret has been an invited speaker or keynote speaker at numerous conferences and meetings in Australia and overseas, many of which have been published, along with a number of other publications. To this day her opinion and advice is sought on midwifery and women’s health issues.
In the midst of all of this Margaret has found time to pursue her interest in opera, the arts, plants, conservation and her local community of Mirboo
Margaret was deservedly honored with,
· an OAM for her services to midwifery education and practice in 1985
· Life Membership of UNICEF Australia in 1994
· Distinguished Fellowship and Life Membership of ACM in 1995
· Woodward Family Medal of Excellence, The Royal Women’s Hospital in 1996.
Margaret Peters came to midwifery at a time when Australian midwifery was under the control of nursing, a time when midwifery was not unified across the country, a time when midwifery was not recognized as a profession that could improve care for women and their babies. She came at a time when midwifery needed coordinated action and leadership. She and a small but rapidly growing committed group of midwives formed a professional midwifery organization, taking midwifery out from under nursing control, enabling professional self-governance and unification. In short she was instrumental in leading Australian midwifery on the path to professional recognition.
Margaret has made a remarkable professional contribution at a local, national and international level, over the whole of her professional working life; this continues in retirement and she is a valued Honorary Advisor to the ACM Midwifery History Project.
In speaking to Margaret, she says “I have always seen whatever achievements were made for midwifery, midwives and women when I was in the Chair for ACM or ICM, as a collaborative team effort”.
Who would disagree? However, every good team needs a good leader, and Margaret Peters provided that leadership when Australian midwifery desperately needed it