Laura Corbin

Laura Mary Louisa Corbin (1841-1906), crèche founder, was born on 26 April 1841 in Adelaide, daughter of Mary Louisa (born Newenham) and Alfred Hardy, surveyor. The family later lived at Glen Osmond where Laura, 'a book scarcely ever out of her hands', and possessed of 'a sweet disposition', was educated by her mother. On 16 June 1869 at St Michael's Church of England, Mitcham, she married Thomas Wilson Corbin, a country doctor. After a year overseas in 1872 Dr Corbin practised in South Adelaide. They had ten children.

Laura became concerned at the plight of poor women with dependent children, who could earn up to 3/- for a day's washing or charring but had no one to care for their children; some infants were left at home alone. In June 1880 'a lady' who had investigated crèches in London and Paris (it is presumed it was Laura Corbin), opened a city crèche, charging sixpence a day and accepting children from three months of age. The Sisters of St Joseph helped, but even with a reduction in fees it failed.

In May 1887 Laura Corbin founded the non-denominational 'South Adelaide Crèche or Day Nursery' (later South Adelaide Crèche) for 'the purpose of taking care of the children of women who go out to work by the day'. She was a capable and compassionate president of its managing committee for ten years. She clearly understood a child's need of sympathetic care, good food, rest and cleanliness. In response to critics alleging 'pauperisation', she patiently explained the twopence daily charge.

The Crèche began on a 7 am to 6 pm basis in a single room; as numbers increased it moved to other premises. Laura and her committee supervised its running, raised money and solicited gifts. They sometimes waived fees for women in desperate circumstances. Early clients included women who had given birth in the Destitute Asylum and were seeking situations.

When abroad in 1891 Mrs Corbin visited English and Irish crèches, and reported the South Adelaide Crèche equalled the best, and surpassed all in outside play-space. The crèche kept a register of women seeking work and Mrs Corbin appealed to employers for reasonable working hours. In the harsh winter of 1893 she opened a soup kitchen and started a Women's Distress Fund of which she was secretary.

In 1896, with substantial financial assistance from the children's Sunbeam Society, land was bought in Gouger St, and to acclaim from 2500 Sunbeams Mrs Corbin laid the foundation stone of a new two-storied building like a dolls' house, described as 'a distinct ornament to the city'. In June 1897, her health failing, she resigned her presidency, secure in the knowledge that her 'labour of love' provided an established, efficient service for poor mothers and young children. She had seen over 37,000 admissions. A quiet pioneer, she died on 24 October 1906.

Helen Jones