Joan Donley interviewed by Dr Brian Edwards, 1997

This 36 minute long interview of Joan Donley by Dr Brian Edwards was recorded for Radio New Zealand in 1997 when Joan Donley was 81 years old. (The opening sentence of the interview has not been captured.)

Gillian White, Joan Donley and Bronwen Pelvin, 1996 (left to right). Photographer: Glenda Stimpson

It includes discussion on Joan’s early life and father, natural medicine, nursing as a natural process, midwifery in Canada in 1930s, marriage, registration at St Helens, New Zealand China Society, Peace Council, Vera Ellis, medical and midwifery model of birth, midwifery history, 1904 midwifery independent practitioners, obstetric nurses, Doris Gordon, Twilight Sleep, cascade of interventions, obstetric nurses, domiciliary midwives, 1971 Midwives Act, medical supervision, Nurses Association, power and control, hospital midwives, lunatic fringe, politics and midwives, global witch hunt, media, cerebral palsy, power struggle with doctors, Section 51, Social Security Act 1938, Health and Disability Act 1993, midwifery autonomy 1990, fee for service, philosophical differences, midwifery model of childbirth, physiological process, medical model, interventions, danger, epidural, home birth women, health, beliefs, genetic abnormalities, junk food, environmental pollutants, essential fatty acids and brain development, vitamins and minerals, fear, contribution to gene pool, painless childbirth, summary of conversation, nutrition, rickets, barber surgeons, contraception pill and pelvic development, caesarean section, maternal mortality rates, septic abortions, antibiotics, healthy birth, courage, support for birth and afterwards, pain relief, warm baths, acupuncture, back rubs, massage, payment of midwifery services, National Women’s Hospital, disbursements for CHE midwives, doctors and antenatal care, preventative care, continuity of maternity care, midwife and labour care, zealotry, home birth choice, decision making in labour, granddaughter, self care.

Joan Donley, 1916-2005


Joan Donley (& Jenny Johnston), 2000. Photographer Glenda Stimpson

Joan was a phenomenal networker and wrote extensive reports which she delivered at home birth conferences around the world. She would also report back to the Auckland Home Birth Association and the Domiciliary Midwives Society on her return. Her reports to and about the 6th National Homebirth Australia Conference in Sawtell in 1985 can be read here.

Amongst her many conference addresses, Joan’s influential Midwives or moas? speech would galvanise midwives into action. Presented at the 1988 National Midwives and Obstetric Nurses Special Interest Section of New Zealand Nurses’ Association Conference in Auckland, Joan proposed that midwives form the Aotearoa College of Midwives “to promote midwifery in order to survive as a profession”. While it underwent a name change, this prompt would result in the founding of the New Zealand College of Midwives at that Conference.

Other papers written by Joan during 1986-1992 include:

Save the Midwife by Joan Donley

Joan’s research into midwifery history and politics in New Zealand was published in 1986 in her first book, Save the Midwife. An interview done for the New Zealand Women’s Weekly following publication of her book can be read here.

In 1997 Dr Brian Edwards interviewed Joan. At that stage she was 81 years of age. This recording can be heard here.

A further collection of Joan’s papers Inventory of the papers of Joan Donley (1916-2005), 1933-2003. MSS & Archives 2007/15 is available at Auckland University in Special Collections. This material includes that of National Women’s Hospital when it was housed at Green Lane, Auckland.

Friends of Wise Woman Archives Trust

WWAT wishes to acknowledge the following people and organisations for their generous financial support:

  • Marlis Straessner-Lacroix, from Silverette in Germany (May 2017)
  • Liz Jull, midwife from Otaki (July 2016)
  • Ruth Martis, midwife from Palmerston North (September 2015)
  • New Zealand College of Midwives (Waikato region) – thank you to members for the grant awarded in recognition of the work already done in the digitisation process. (July 2015)
  • Domiciliary Midwives Society of New Zealand – thank you to previous members of the Society who donated the left-over funds from the dis-established DMS. This is being used to assist with digistisation of the Domiciliary Midwives Society of New Zealand archive (June 2015)
  • Birthspirit – thanks to Birthspirit for the ongoing support to collect, preserve, digitise and publicise WWAT Collections, and for developing and administering all WWAT processes and website. (Ongoing since October 2006.)

Please feel free to make a financial donation to support the Trust’s work.

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