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Gryphon Gallery: Aileen Murray Slater

Aileen Slater was the daughter of an officer in the Indian army. When she was born, the ecstatic father sent a cable announcing, “Beti [Hindi for ‘little girl’] has arrived.” Throughout her life she was thereafter known as Betty.

The family moved to Victoria in 1924 and she attended Glenlyon Norfolk School (Norfolk House) from 1925 to 1931, after which she trained as a nurse. During this time she met her husband, Commander Parsons. While he was posted overseas, she delivered her son after a long and painful labour and forceps delivery. Her second son died early in life of pneumonia and this was followed by a miscarraige. These difficult experiences of childbirth proved to be a definitive turning point in her focus and she sought the advice of an Indian homeopathic doctor, who strongly recommended the practice of total relaxation to overcome pain and stress.

Embracing his philosophy combined with her own calm manner, Betty developed a natural ability to listen to mothers’ concerns and became an excellent counsellor for pregnant mothers. She joined the National Childbirth Association and started holding classes and teaching in people’s homes. Her reputation grew quickly and with support she set up a clinic in London’s affluent Mayfair district. 

Betty gave practical advice to expectant mothers and guided them through a stress-free pregnancy, often stating that: “Giving birth is not an Olympic event for which you have to be trained up to get the gold medal. One needs to have a relaxed, positive attitude to life—we all get in ‘tizzies,’ usually over things we can’t change. Labour is something you can’t change, only manage.” 

During her career, Aileen Slater attended to Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and the Duchess of York as well as other ladies in the royal household, many celebrities and actresses. She received an MBE and wrote a bestselling book Understanding Childbirth, passing away in 2012 in Surrey, England, aged 96.

This is the twentieth instalment of a series of articles entitled “Gryphon Gallery” created by our School Archivist that provides snapshots that celebrate the achievements of a variety of alumni and staff from throughout the history of GNS.