House of mercy when tongues were wagging

A house on Lincoln Street, the original House of Mercy. Photo copyright Ngala

This week’s tale from the Vincent Local History Centre looks back at a time when single mothers faced great prejudice, and a Lincoln Street house offered a refuge.

MANY Perth families would know and appreciate the work of the Ngala parenting and children’s support service which has operated out of its premises in Kensington since the late 1950s.

Fewer people may know about its early history and connection to the suburb of Highgate, where the organisation ran the House of Mercy (later renamed the Alexandra Home for Women) from the early 1900s.  

The House of Mercy at 55 Lincoln Street, Highgate was designed by soldier/architect Sir Talbot Hobbs and was built in 1901 as a refuge for unmarried pregnant women. 

The following description of the refuge appeared in the West Australian on September 24, 1926: 

“For girls in desperate straits, sore beset with shameful sorrow, there is in Perth a haven. At the Alexandra Home in Lincoln-street, Highgate Hill, safe shelter is offered that seeks not to reproach, but to assist materially in re-generating the shattered lives of weak-natured young women. There they are helped in every possible way. 

Inexperienced and ignorant young girls are also taught much that is useful, and to tend their babies in accordance with the laws of hygiene.” 

The language used was a sign of the times and the prejudice faced by single mothers, although the intent of the refuge was to provide support and to teach valuable life skills.

In 1916, the House of Mercy became the Alexandra Home for Women, named for King Edward VII’s widow. 

At the time, plans to build Perth’s first maternity hospital on Lincoln Street beside the House of Mercy did not proceed, and King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women opened in Subiaco instead. 

The Alexandra Home for Women continued its work in Highgate assisting unmarried pregnant women and their babies in an era when there were fewer social supports available to women. 

In the 1940s, the work of Alexandra Home for Women expanded to include mothercraft training. 

In the late 1950s, having outgrown its original building, the organisation moved to new premises in South Perth and became the Ngala Mothercraft Home and Training Centre. 

The house at 55 Lincoln Street was demolished in the early 1980s and the land is now occupied by aged care service provider Aegis Lincoln Park. 

For its 130th anniversary, Ngala has commissioned a book on the history of the organisation written by Cherilyn McMeekin. Cherilyn will be giving a talk about Ngala’s early history in Highgate at the City of Vincent Local History Centre on Wednesday June 9 from 10-11.30am. The talk is free but bookings are essential. Call or email: 9273 6534 or local.history@ vincent.wa.gov.au

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