HBF’s first lady: Eldred Klemm a trailblazer for Perth women, private health

97-year-old Eldred Klemm who was the first female employee at HBF. Photo: Will Russell
97-year-old Eldred Klemm who was the first female employee at HBF. Photo: Will Russell

WITHOUT wanting to admit it, Eldred Klemm is a pioneer of women in the workforce as the first female employee of what became a private health insurance company.

The 97-year-old Jolimont great-great-grandmother bucked the trend in the 40s of women leaving work once they married and had a pivotal role in creating what formed HBF.

Mrs Klemm, who grew up in Glen Forrest and attended Midland School and Perth Modern, said she got a job at the then-Perth Hospital after graduating from college when she was 15 years old.

“In those days there wasn’t much for girls except nursing and teaching, and I didn’t feel I was cut out for either so I went to business college,” she said.

From 1935, Mrs Klemm sold people the two health schemes running at the time.

“The free treatment scheme was a threepence a week for a single person for free treatment in a public hospital and the other was sixpence a week in a private hospital,” she remembered.

“For both schemes you bought stamps and stuck them in a book but that changed when we later moved to Hay Street where you just paid and it was recorded.”

Mrs Klemm and her boss moved from the hospital to Sheffield House on Hay Street, opposite what is Target today, in April 1941 to start the Metropolitan Hospital’s Benefit Fund.

“Being the first female employee, I didn’t think much about it, you just got on with things those days,” she said.

“It seemed to go in leaps and bounds and expand and people realised it was a much better system than the stamps that they were buying.”

Mrs Klemm said she stopped working to marry her husband Eddy in March 1942 but later returned to the fund three days a week after having two boys.

“In those days it was an accepted thing that when you got married you left work and you became a full-time housewife and started your family,” she said.

“I was the back stop and I would also go back to work there a couple of times if people left to help out.”

After helping save the money needed to build their family home in Daglish, Mrs Klemm went on to work for the Royal Air Forces Association and spent 24 years there watching that “grow from a little office in Adelaide Terrace” to the complex it is today in Bull Creek.

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