The Test of Citizenship: Nursing Notes, September 1914

This post is taken from the September 1914 issue of The Nursing Notes and Midwives Chronicles.

This issue of Nursing Notes reflects the impact of the outbreak of the First World War the previous month. On turning the front page the reader finds a statement from the producers of infant dried milk, Glaxo, reassuring customers that stocks and prices are unaffected by the war. The leading article is entitled ‘The Test of Citizenship’ and looks at the duty of those left behind in ‘the rank and file’ – those such as midwives and nurses who could undertake the important small duties of ‘keeping a level head’ or ‘helping to usher in a new life’.

Glaxo war advert
Glaxo war advert

There is guidance on how women could give their services and assistance in the war effort: the provision of free or assisted midwifery, secretarial assistance to women’s associations (including the Suffrage Society) and gifts of clothes for soldiers and sailors. The Trained Nurses Club organised needlework meetings for members to make shirts and jackets for the wounded and for Belgian Refugees. And the Editors of the Nursing Notes made a commitment in the printed columns to ‘specially deal with matters regarding what midwives can do and with the organisations whose work touches theirs at various points’, recognising that the work of the hospitals and war nurses, but not of midwives,  was fully covered in the existing nursing journals.

Supporting this commitment, reports of discussions of the Council of the Midwives Institute show the circular letter to be sent to Members in order to assess the extent of midwifery services which could be offered to wives of soldiers and sailors during their confinements. In a similar vein, a statement from Queen Charlotte’s Lying-In Hospital offers admittance to the wives of soldiers and sailors during their confinements without the usual letter of recommendation, with the alternative of attendance at home by the Hospital Midwives.

Two fairly new health services are mentioned in the journal, with interesting wartime opportunities attached to them. In particular the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses was preparing itself to establish a possible corps of skilled masseuses to provide treatments for the wounded, as well as promoting the syllabus and examinations organised by the Society. The National League for Physical Education and Improvement give suggestions for a national campaign to raise awareness of ‘simple principles of mothercraft ‘ to help prevent infant deaths and illnesses, including perseverance with breast feeding for nine months and avoidance of early weaning and the use of stimulants. This is perhaps a foreshadow of the startling revelations of the poor health of the lower classes which became well-known during conscription and enlistment.


This issue is not all patriotism and war service: a delightful article continues a series entitled ‘London Notes by a Rambler’ with suggestions of excursions to fill ‘two hours off duty’ – in this instance, with a stroll around Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, an area which 60 years later would be inhabited by the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie. And we see the usual advertisements for midwifery equipment, uniforms, and health foods which are prolific throughout the journal and are such a good indicator of the time and social history.

Penny Hutchins, Archivist

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary caddell says:

    very interesting it shows what we take for granted tody and how hard it was for women and midwives during war times.

  2. Stuart says:

    Would you reproduce the Chelsea walk? I fancy walking it today, a century later, to see what;s changed, and what hasn’t.

    1. What a great idea! Watch this space and I will see what I can do!

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