The Origins of Mother’s Day in Australia

Silverwater Correctional Complex is a sprawling structure on Wangal lands by the Parramatta River in Newington, 16km west of Sydney’s CBD. In this place, Australia first commemorated Mother’s Day.

What has a prison got to do with Mother’s Day? 

Silverwater Prison now occupies the former Newington State Hospital and Asylum site. In the early 1920s, Mrs Janet Heyden regularly visited a friend at the Hospital, which housed elderly, infirm and destitute women. Appalled by the numbers of elderly mothers made lonely through the lack of visitors, she began her first public appeal for donations to the Hospital’s residents. She enlisted the help of commercial businesses, local schools, and the Sydney Feminist Club. Her efforts resulted in many drawstring gift bags filled with toiletries, confectioneries, and knitted goods for distribution to the women on the second Sunday in May, 1924. 

“The mothers of Newington State Hospital greatly appreciated the beautiful gifts that were handed round by a party of ladies on Sunday, Mothers’ Day. There are nearly seven hundred inmates at the home, and not one was forgotten. The gifts, we understand, were the outcome of the self-sacrificing efforts of many little children from the State schools. The happy day will long be remembered by us all, and we cherish a kindly memory of the little folks.”

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 14 May 1924, page 8

The gift-giving tradition continued annually and soon spread to other Australian states.

In January 1941, my great-great grandmother, Margaret O’Connor, died penniless and alone at the the Newington State Hospital. It’s a small comfort to think that she may have once been a recipient of Mrs Heyden’s kindness.

In memory and appreciation of Margaret and all of the mothers in my family tree. 

Special love to my own mother, Maureen. x


AGY-1994 | Newington Asylum (1886-1913) / Newington State Hospital and Asylum / Newington State Hospital and Home for Aged Women (1913-68). Retrieved May 9, 2021, from

MOTHERS’ DAY GIFTS. (1924, May 14). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved May 9, 2021, from

Mother’s Day was mothered here (1944, May 7). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 4 (Fact Supplement). Retrieved May 9, 2021, from

New South Wales, death certificate (certified copy) 2164/1941, Margaret Parfitt, Known as Margaret O’Connor; registration 1 January 1941, district Auburn; Registry of Birth Deaths and Marriages, Chippendale.

Remember Mrs. Heyden on every Mother’s Day… (1969, May 7). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 46. Retrieved May 9, 2021, from

Published by Dr Kristy Love

Genealogist at Family History Agency

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