Suffrage and the Midwife: Nursing Notes, July 1908

This month’s post comes from the July issue of the 1908 volume of ‘Nursing Notes and Midwives’ Chronicle’.

One of the most striking aspects of these early issues of the ‘Nursing Notes’ is the extent to which the Midwives’ Institute were in support of the campaign for female enfranchisement:

‘Nurses and midwives, whose work ought to make them peculiarly sensitive to the true inner meaning of the present struggle, should be amongst the most earnest supporters of the Women’s Movement…The gaining of voting power is merely a first step towards enabling women to give their best help in forwarding social, moral and economic reforms, which without their cooperation may be disastrously delayed.’

The editorial to this July issue goes on to describe how ‘male legislators’ had delayed the passing of the Midwives’ Act between 1890 and 1902, and regrets that pressure has been put upon nurses belonging to institutions and associations to prevent them taking part in campaigns and processions.

‘It is in order that women may use their political power for the furtherance of social improvements…that we claim for them the vote on the same terms as men.’

We are also told that ‘about twenty members (midwives, nurses and masseuses) started with the Treasurer from the Club to join the Suffrage Procession on the Embankment’ in June 1908, walking under a banner bearing the name of Florence Nightingale, although this is written with some regret that the number was not higher.

This issue contains an interview with Rosalind Paget (pictured above), who was the previously mentioned Honorary Treasurer of the Midwives’ Institute, and founder and editor of ‘Nursing Notes’. She explains her personal conviction that women’s suffrage was integral with the advancement of the midwifery profession, writing:

‘My experiences have taught me that without a vote the views of women are not considered in regard to the making of laws that concern them. I pay taxes; I want a word in the spending of the money. At this moment I am neither a pauper, a certified lunatic nor a criminal, but being a woman I am classed with them.’

I am sure that this link between the Suffrage movement and the Midwives’ Institute is an interesting theme to follow through the pages of the ‘Nursing Notes’ and I hope to bring you more in future months!

There are also details about a new leaflet drawn up by Sir Francis Champneys on ‘Cancer of the Womb’ to be distributed to midwives and candidates for the Central Midwives Board. Champneys was Chairman of the Central Midwives Board between 1902 and 1930, and became a Foundation Fellow and Vice Patron of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1929. A copy of this leaflet may be found among the papers of Sir Francis Champneys held in the RCOG Archive (Reference S68).

We can follow the debate about whether babies should sleep in the mother’s arms or cots within the pages of the July 1908 journal, and view copies of the questions set in the Midwives Institute Examination, as well as find out details of the latest innovations in nursing and midwifery aids. Tying in with current events, members were encouraged to visit ‘the beautiful White City’ in London, which as well as being the site for the 1908 London Olympics, was also the location of the Franco-British Exhibition, which apparently had much of interest to attract women in the nursing professions!

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