On 17 September 1936, Tasmanian born New Zealand activist Ettie Rout died at the age of 59. In July 1915, during the Gallipoli campaign, Rout set up the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood and invited women between the ages of 30 and 50 to go to Egypt to care for New Zealand soldiers. In spite of government opposition, she sent the first batch of 12 volunteers to Cairo that October. Rout arrived in Egypt in February 1916 and immediately noticed the soldiers’ high venereal disease rate. She saw this as a medical, not moral, problem and one that should be approached like any other disease – with all available preventive measures. She recommended the issue of prophylactic kits and the establishment of inspected brothels, and she tried to persuade the New Zealand Medical Corps officers to this view – however with no success.
In June 1917 the venereal disease problem was still very bad, so she went to London to push the New Zealand Medical Corps into adopting prophylactic measures. Rout combined the work of several researchers to produce her own prophylactic kit, containing calomel ointment, condoms and Condy’s crystals (potassium permanganate). She sold these at the New Zealand Medical Soldiers Club, which she set up at Hornchurch near the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital. At the end of 1917 the New Zealand Expeditionary Force adopted her kit and made it a free and compulsory distribution to soldiers going on leave. Rout received no credit for her role in the kit’s development and adoption, and for the duration of the war the Cabinet banned her from New Zealand newspapers under the War Regulations. Mention of Rout brought a potential £100 fine after one of her letters, suggesting kits and hygienic brothels, had been published in the New Zealand Times. Her 1922 book ‘Safe Marriage: A Return to Sanity’ was banned in New Zealand, but published in both Australia and Britain. Rout died as the result of a quinine overdose in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands following her sole post-war return to New Zealand in 1936. She is interred at an Avarua church cemetery.
The images of Ettie presented here are from a Miscellaneous collection of photographs held in the Wellington Office of Archives New Zealand. Additional caption information is sourced from NZHistory.govt.nz
Archives New Zealand references:
ACHU 19290 MISC30 Box 1 / 14 – archway.archives.govt.nz/ViewFullItem.do?code=22311847
ACHU 19290 MISC30 Box 1 / 13 – archway.archives.govt.nz/ViewFullItem.do?code=22311848
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Tagged: , New Zealand History , New Zealand , Archives New Zealand , Ettie Rout , NZEF , War , 1915 , New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood , Egypt , Cairo , New Zealand Medical Corps , Soldiers , Army , WWI , First World War , WW1 , World War One , conflict , Great War