The “Perfection”: Nursing Notes, November 1923

This month’s post comes from the November issue of the 1923 volume of ‘Midwives Chronicle & Nursing Notes.’

The overwhelming first impression of this volume of the journal is the wealth and charm of the advertisements. In true twenties style, the advantages and benefits of anything from midwives’ uniforms to medical instruments, milk for babies and mothers and pension funds for nurses, are accompanied by period drawings and sketches which provide ample detail to aid investigations into midwifery and social history. Enameled steel ware from The Surgical Manufacturing Company Limited; nurses uniforms and bags from Brooks & Co; ‘Breast Fed is Best Fed’ from Ovaltine promoting the benefits of the drink for lactating mothers; the latest invention from W H Bailey and Son’s in the shape of the ‘Perfection’ Midwifery Case, which featured a drop-front and hinged back section to perfectly hold bottles and pots in the upright position; all provide an interesting insight into retail and domestic living during the early 1920s, as well as the state of midwifery at that time. The advertisement shown below is a good example of how this kind of resource can help us identify objects already in the RCM museum collection, and could potentially be helpful to a wide range of researchers, from midwifery historians to film crew.

Themes explored in this issue support the campaign of the Midwives’ Institute for longer and more comprehensive training for midwives prior to registration with the Central Midwives Board. An article by Edith Pye, later President of the Midwives’ Institute between 1929 and 1949, advocates an extension to the current six-month training period, and several articles are a serialisation of lectures presented by doctors and obstetricians on valuable midwifery issues, such as the use and abuse of obstetric forceps (by obstetricians Comyns Berkeley and John Fairbairn at the Annual Meeting of the British Association in 1923) and practical notes on abdominal examination during pregnancy. There is also an interesting peak at life behind the doors of the Midwives’ Institute in 1923, with a short article on the governance of the Institute, including its Council and Committees, together with club notes, which show how important the library was to the Institute, as a meeting place and as a lending library supporting the education and training of its members.

A usual feature of the journal is the reporting of the business of the Central Midwives Board, most usually cases heard before the Board for removal from the register or reinstatement. This issue gives a detailed report of two cases heard by the Board on 11th October 1923: these were the only two penal cases heard that month, which is noted as being satisfactory, but the nature of the cases warranted a more detailed report than would be usual in the pages of the journal. Elizabeth Beddows of Walsall (age 68) was charged with being unable to take a pulse or temperature, despite her excellent record as a bona-fide midwife. The Board had no option but to remove her from the CMB Register of Midwives, but made recommendations that she be allowed to continue work with a doctor, and that this practice be taken up by Local Supervising Authorities as an inducement to older illiterate midwives to retire or to only take cases with a doctor:

‘Once they have been reported to the Board for inability to take pulse and temperature, the Board has no option but to remove their names. They are manifestly unable to comply with the rules. Yet many of them have done most excellent work, spending themselves in the service of their patients, and it is the greatest pity that an honourable career should be marred at the end by the forfeit of the certificate.’

The second case was considered more serious: Jane Elizabeth Haynes of Salop (age 32) possessed the Central Midwives Board certificate, and is described as ‘competent in her work and liked by her patients’. She was found guilty of entering false temperatures and pulses ‘and had other ways proved herself both untruthful and untrustworthy’. The Board interestingly found as one of the evidences of false records, the fact that there was absolute uniformity of temperatures and pulse-rates – ‘Such things, as the Chairman remarked, do not occur in nature.’

To end on a more light-hearted note, a midwife shown only as ‘K.G.G’ describes her exploration of the Monument in the City of London in an article which contemplates the changes to the City from the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and coordinating changes in the midwifery profession. It is fascinating to think how the views of London have changed in the ninety years since she recorded her view:

‘The views over London, in every direction are superb, especially towards the north, with a good ‘close up’ of the dome of St Paul’s, and an advertisement of ‘cheap stationery’ in the foreground. Southwards, over the river, the advertisement of a patent milk reiterates its hideous letting. One would gladly welcome the Prince of Wales’ suggestion of ‘signs’, in the beautiful mediaeval style. Imagine the views from the Monument, or some aircraft, if every midwife’s house could be recognised by the advertisement of a stork, in effigy perched on the roofs!’

Penny Hutchins, RCM/RCOG Archivist

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