For the Christmas Season: Nursing Notes, December 1923

This month’s post comes from the 1923 volume of Nursing Notes, and has a distinct Christmassy feel!

Who couldn’t resist the advertisement from Messrs Cadbury Bros, announcing the preparation of ‘an attractive assortment of chocolates, suitable for the Christmas season…produced at Bourneville, under conditions which not only ensure clean and hygienic methods of manufacture, but also make for the health and well-being of the workers.’ How many midwives would have been tempted to indulge in a few treats? Which also leads me to wonder about midwifery on the Bourneville estate and if concerns for the health and care of the workforce extended to the growing families and midwifery services – what a great little research project that would make!

The Christmas theme is followed up with reports of a Dickens Evening at the Midwives Institute held by the Post-Graduate School for Midwives, which included a tableau of the Old Curiosity Shop and scenes from Bleak House, Oliver Twist, Martin Chuzzlewit, Nicholas Nickelby, and Pickwick Papers. All finished off by home-made refreshments supplied ‘by our member, Miss How’s, and her mother.’

On to more regular activities, and the Central Midwives Board, chaired by Sir Francis Champneys, were discussing the administration of drugs by midwives and also the list of midwives struck off the Midwives Roll, including Virginia Clare Crossley of London who was convicted at Marylebone Police Court of being drunk, and Ruby Gertrude Woods of Isle of Wight for co-habiting with a man other than her husband. There is also the case of a midwife who had an excellent delivery record but had missed a case of sepsis as she was unable to read or record temperature or pulse. Even 21 years after the requirement for trained midwives, there were still some untrained women who managed to enrol on the Midwives Roll in 1902 citing long experience and professional skills.

By 1923, the journal had been in publication for some 30 years and was already acknowledged as an important organ for midwives to discuss difficulties within the profession – a voice for midwives to air their thoughts on such issues as the importance of disinfection, the inclusion of ‘handywomen’ on the Midwives Roll, maternal mortality, and the use of forceps. This last issue is discussed further in an article by Dr John Fairbairn (future President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) in response to a paper by the esteemed gynaecological surgeon, Comyns Berkeley on ‘The Use and Misuse of Obstetric Forceps’. Dr Fairbairn’s plea for natural deliveries must strike a chord with practitioners today: comparing ‘artificial delivery by forceps to the artificial feeding of infants’, he suggested that adequate supervision during pregnancy would negate the need to have a doctor present at the delivery itself.

The journal isn’t all about healthcare in the UK, and there is an interesting account by a nurse of the Overseas Nursing Association of her experiences working in China, including midwifery practices there and Chinese attitudes to female babies.

Enamelled equipment used by midwife, Alice Cull Such, at the beginning of the twentieth century [RCM/2013/19]
Enamelled equipment used by midwife, Alice Cull Such, at the beginning of the twentieth century [RCM/2013/19]
As ever, one of the most interesting aspects of Nursing Notes are the advertisements, and this issue is valuable from a historic and cultural perspective for showing images of equipment and uniforms, some of which are held in the RCM Heritage Collection today. As well as nurses and midwives uniforms, we have prime examples of enamelled dishes and jugs. The enamelled steel ware, which was prolific during this period, was manufactured by The Surgical Manufacturing Company and I am sure that many of the items saw service long beyond the 1920s.

And exciting news to finish with! The RCM Heritage Collection has just taken collection of a midwife’s uniform from the turn of the century – watch this space for images as our delightful mannequin comes out of storage to model the uniform in the near future!

Penny Hutchins, College Archivist

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