A current theme in today’s employment relations is the mandatory establishment of pensions by businesses, and in 1929 this is exactly the issue which was taxing the midwifery profession.
The Midwives’ Institute, together with the editorial team of Nursing Notes, had joined forces to implement a pension scheme to fill the gap left by the few schemes at that time. The National Insurance Act of 1911 was one of a number of measures introduced by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s Labour Party between 1906 and 1914, but the Act was hardly universal in scope, favouring the ‘deserving sick and unemployed’, in other words, those who had previously been in regular employment in a recognised profession.
The journal explains that midwives were unable to join other schemes for various reasons, and were barred from National Insurance as they were not classed as ‘Employed Persons’. Midwives also needed a scheme they could join at any age of their working life, given the nature of their profession. Full details of the new scheme are included in this journal to be communicated to midwives around the country, bearing fruit to the promise made by the Midwives’ Institute to work to improve conditions for midwives in all aspects of their working lives.
Nursing Notes were evidently anxious to deliver a journal which was fit for purpose, and, not being in possession of the tools we have today to conduct surveys, they urged readers to submit postcards with comments on what they would like to see in the journal. Did they want ‘lighter, illustrated articles’? Did they feel that too much space was given to medical laws and regulations? These are just two of the questions asked of the readers. The journal was beginning to lighten it’s tone at any rate, and a fixed feature during the late 1920s were the English History questions – how many of these would you know?
- What Queen of England is supposed to have died of puerperal fever, and what happened to the infant?
- What heiress apparent to the throne of Great Britain died in childbirth?
- Which English Queen had a very large number of children, and lost them all in babyhood?
- What Queen is supposed to have suffered from a ‘phantom tumour’?
Another recent Act which had significance for midwives was the 1922 Infanticide Act. Previous to this, the killing of a child was a capital offence, and this Act sought to differentiate between murder and manslaughter, in particular where the mother was suffering from postnatal depression (or as the journal put it ‘mentally deranged by recent childbirth’). Annual crime statistics issued by the Home Office in 1927 revealed that inquests on 276 children suffocated while in bed with their parents, returned 22 open verdicts, with the remainder a verdict of accidental death.
I will end with a recent initiative by Guy’s Hospital introduced for nurses on night duty – ‘sun baths’ given three times a week – an early version of sunbeds perhaps?