Woman Kent Hughes, Constance

Charity Worker and Nurse

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Constance Kent Hughes (nee Lelean) was born in 1891. She trained in nursing at the Melbourne Hospital (later the Royal Melbourne Hospital) prior to the 1920s. She was an important champion of medical social work or almoning in Victoria. Recognising that the welfare needs of hospital patients were often unmet, in 1921 she became the Secretary of the Melbourne Hospital Auxiliary, through which she organised the beginning of a Social Service Bureau, staffed by volunteer workers, to assist patients and their families when leaving the hospital. (Moberly Bell, 1961, p. 130). She married Dr. Wilfred Kent Hughes, a Melbourne ear, nose and throat surgeon and they had two daughters.

Passionate about the work of almoners, in 1927 she visited London to observe St. Thomas's Hospital Social Service Department. Here she met Anne Cummins, Britain's first almoner/social worker, who invited Kent Hughes to work with her for a few weeks. Returning to Melbourne she persuaded the Melbourne Hospital Board and the Auxiliary to fund the employment of a trained professional almoner from the United Kingdom (Moberly Bell, 1961, p. 132). She arranged free passage for Miss Agnes McIntyre who arrived in 1929 from St Thomas's Hospital to establish an almoner's department at the Melbourne Hospital (Moberly Bell, 1961, p. 132, 133). This was the start of such departments in Victorian hospitals, a move which was replicated at the Children's Hospital in 1931, St. Vincent's Hospital in 1932, the Women's Hospital and the Geelong Hospital in1933 (O'Brien and Turner 1979).

Kent Hughes also instigated the establishment of a training body for almoners in Melbourne with Agnes McIntyre appointed first director. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she supported almoners through the Melbourne Hospital's out-patients' canteen and the Almoner Auxiliary. Mobilising Melbourne's wealthy charity networks, she also convened fundraising balls, dinners, theatre matinees, garden parties, bridge groups and speakers for Red Cross branches and the Women's Land Army.

Following her divorce in 1936, Kent Hughes was appointed to a paid position as general organiser of auxiliaries at the hospital (Argus, 26 August 1936). Ill health forced her resignation from this position in 1944 but her contribution was recognised through her appointment as an honorary Life Governor (Argus, 19 May 1944, 14 June 1944). She died in 1973.

Published Resources


  • Moberley Bell, E, The Story of Hospital Almoners: The Birth of a Profession, Faber and Faber, London, England, 1961. Details

Journal Articles

  • O'Brien, L. and Turner, C., 'Hospital Almoning: Portrait of the First Decade', Australian Social Work, vol. 32, no. 4, December 1979, pp. 7 - 12. Details

Newspaper Articles

See also