Jessie Abercrombie Frew was born March 10th, 1894, in Penrith, the daughter of Alexander and Jean Jessie Frew. Her parents had emigrated from Scotland, settling in Penrith in October 1883 after a few months in Sydney.
Jessie attended St Stephen’s school in Penrith, where she regularly received awards for her academic performance.
After she graduated, she began training as a nurse. During her training she worked in the Granville Emergency Hospital, which operated out of the William Street Public School during the influenza epidemic in 1919. There were a number of these emergency hospitals set up in public buildings as the epidemic reached its height and the local hospitals were filled to capacity.
She passed her Australian Trained Nurses Association exam in 1920.
Sister Jessie Frew was one of the nurses educated in infant care and assigned to work at the new Baby Health Centres. At this time infant mortality rates were very high, especially in rural areas of NSW where both medical care and education were difficult to access. To combat this, an arrangement was formed between the Country Women’s Association and the Department of Health: if the CWA could raise funds for premises and equipment, the Department of Health would provide nursing staff for Baby Health Centres in rural areas. These centres provided mothers with information, supplies, and regular check-ups for themselves and their infants, giving them much better chances of thriving.
Sister Frew’s first appointment was in 1924: she travelled to Broken Hill with Sister Vera Innes, who had also worked at the Granville Emergency Hospital, to work in the Baby Health Centre there. In 1925 Sister Frew took over the Railway Town clinic nearby, and succeeded Sister Innes as head nurse for the area when Sister Innes was transferred. Sister Frew was officially gazetted as a ‘Nurse, Baby Health Centres’ in 1926.
Sister Frew transferred to Cootamundra Baby Health Centre in 1928, adding Temora Baby Centre to her duties when that centre opened in 1930. In 1931, due to lack of funds, she agreed to take a pay cut so that the new Temora centre could stay open. She was clearly part of the community, being spoken of fondly in the newspapers and invited to local card parties.
In 1932 Sister Frew transferred to Parramatta’s Baby Health Centre, a little closer to home. Her duties were expanded as additional centres opened in St Marys in 1935 and Penrith in 1938.
Her mother died in 1941, and her father followed the next year.
She moved to Muswellbrook in 1943, taking over the Upper Hunter area Baby Health Centres: Denman, Merriwa and a new centre which would open at Aberdeen. Sister Frew continued her work here until she officially retired from government service in 1954, at the age of 60.
After her retirement, she travelled to England and lived there for three years, returning to Australia in 1957. She settled in Glenbrook. In 1960, a new Baby Health Centre was opened in Glenbrook, and Sister Frew briefly came out of retirement to offer her expertise as the new centre was established.
Jessie Abercrombie Frew passed away at home on August 25th, 1970, at the age of 76, and was buried in Penrith Cemetery.