Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXV No. 16, December 1-15, 2015

A pioneer’s fall from grace

by Ronald E. Smith-Ansari

Hannan Angelo was founder and secretary of the Nurses Bureau at its first address, a room in the White Memorial Hall, Egmore, and remained at the helm of affairs until she was unceremoniously ousted in the early 1940s.
With the establishment of the Madras Medical College and General Hospital in Madras in the 19th Century, the area of Poonamallee High Road between the YMCA and St. George’s School became known in time as ‘The Harley Street’ of Madras.

Several prominent doctors set up their establishments here: Col. Pandalai’s Nursing Home, Vira Reddy’s Nursing Home, Rama Rau’s Polyclinic, A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar’s Kensington Nursing Home, and Sunderavardanam’s Nursing Home, apart from several smaller and less well-known nursing homes, clinics and consulting rooms.

Most of these establishments required the services of fully qualified nurses. The large establishments whose in-patients included the rich and famous of India and even Sri Lanka, required nurses for special duty exclusively for their patients on twelve hour shifts, the day duty shift from 8 am to 8 pm and the night duty shift from 8 pm to 8 am. These nurses were fully trained nurses and midwives and had undergone three and half years training in the major government hospitals of India.

hannan-angelo
Hannan Angelo

To meet the needs of these nursing homes, Hannan Angelo along with three sisters, who were all nurses, Eva Lewis, Mrs. Dias and Nathalie Lewis, started the Nurses Bureau in 1925 in a room in the White Memorial Hall owned by the Anglo-Indian Association of Southern India. Nurses, who became members, had to pay a nominal daily commission to the Bureau for each day they worked. The Bureau unanimously elected Hannan Angelo as Secretary and she was paid an honorarium of Rs. 200 a month in the early 1930s as well as perks like free fully-furnished accommodation, laundry, food and other incentives after the Bureau moved to Rundall’s Road.

The Bureau grew from strength to strength and soon acquired an all-India reputation. Hannan Angelo was doing an excellent job which was acknowledged by one and all.

In 1935, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, who shifted her residence to Adyar, graciously sold her 22-ground residential property at No. 7 Rundall’s Road to the Nurses Bureau of Madras for Rs. 45,000. Hannan Angelo now roped in several prominent European women, most of whom had at some time availed of the services of the nurses of the Bureau, to completely renovate and furnish 11 rooms for a residential hostel for single nurses. The hostel had a a sitting room, a dining room, a pantry, two outdoor kitchens and an office. Each room had an attached bathroom and the furnishings included carpets and curtains and linen and even wall clocks and ornaments. Each room had a plaque on the front door giving the name of the person who had furnished it.

A young widowed midwife, Mrs. Hopkins, who had been unable to become a member because she was not a ‘sick’ nurse as well, had been appointed in-charge of the office of the Bureau. She continued working from the new location and would take off, post-haste, on her bicycle to the house of a non-resident nurse immediately a call was received over telephone number 3968 for the services of a special nurse.

Many doctors and even patients would request for the services of a favourite nurse while many nurses would work only with certain doctors.

As time went by, Hannan Angelo had her own favourite nurses who were given plum cases and constant employment which caused much heartburn among other nurses. She began to do as she wished with the furnishings of the rooms and public areas, the former in due course being reduced to just a cot, a mattress and a table and chair in each bedroom and nothing else. Food cooked for the common mess had to be exclusively of her choice and when she was having dental problems, everyone had to eat minced meat every day. Written complaints by the nurses to the Managing Committee comprising of doctors as President and Vice President, and seven nurses – which included the Secretary and Treasurer, all handpicked by Hannan Angelo and voted for as directed by her at the Annual General Body Meeting and Tea Party usually held in April every year – came to nought.

Then came World War II and several of the rooms were vacated by nurses who joined the Military Nursing Service. Around the same time, a few soldiers began visiting the Bureau for tea and dancing to the music of the gramophone in the sitting room every evening. They started bringing there own girl-friends with them. Misuse of the rooms was alleged.

Hannan Angelo now built a large dance hall at the rear of the premises which still exists and is now used for prayer meetings. The place was packed every evening with the soldiers being joined by sailors and even a few locals out for an evening of fun and frolic.

Hannan Angelo next obtained the sanction of the Managing Committee and of the Court-appointed official Trustees, to construct an even larger, well appointed dance hall in the front garden and this roofless, door- and window-less structure became known as “the unfinished monument to Hannan Angelo” until it was sold in the late 1970s for the construction of a Jain Temple on the four-ground site.

Mrs. Hopkins, on her visits to the non-resident nurses, conveyed all the sordid happenings to them. Some of the doctors, like Col. Pandalai, expressed their disapproval to the doctors who were President and Vice President of the Nurses’ Association.

In the early 1940’s a special urgent General Body meeting was called and Hannan Angelo was removed as Secretary and given 24 hours to vacate the premises. The Association rules were duly amended and the midwife who was the office clerk, Mrs. Hopkins, with three daughters and a grown up son, was unanimously elected Resident Secretary, a post she held until 1950.

Hannan Angelo’s transition from a highly respected special nurse and midwife and the Founder Secretary of the Nurses’ Association of Madras to her expulsion a little over twenty years later was described by Dr. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar according to my mother, Mrs. Ansari, as “one of the sad casualties of the Second World War.”
Today, the Bureau has ceased functioning. The buildings have all crumbled except what is now used as the Secretary’s Office and the dance hall at the rear where religious services are held every Tuesday.

Madras Province was the first province in India to offer women the franchise, limited though it was initially. That was in 1921, the year the Madras Legislative Council was established. It enacted legislation in 1926, following the lead of the Government of India, to enable women to contest elections and sit in the legislature. The first two women in Madras to stand for election were Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and Hannan Angelo. The latter was an Anglo-Indian nurse, a resident of Mada Church Road, Royapuram. Angelo thrice contested elections for the Corporation of Madras and was elected every time. She was an active councillor who would arrive at work sites and chivvy the men doing road works, clearing rubbish and cleaning drains with a “Jaldi, Jaldi, men,” according to her friend, the late Lakshmi Krishnamoorthy, the daughter of S. Satyamurti.

While she should be remembered for this pioneering record, she, in later life, strayed and that buried all memories of her achievements. This article looks at the path she took to earn a sterling reputation and then led her to disrepute.

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