Delightful distractions: Nursing Notes, July 1949

Fast forward from the wartime 1940s to the period of optimism of the early 1950s – things were happening in 1949, not wholly surprising considering the monumental implementation of the NHS the year before.

The main article of this issue in July 1949 covers the report issued by the Joint Committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Paediatric Society, published by the Ministry of Health, on Neo-Natal Mortality. This was obviously a report which midwives had been hoping for, but it failed to reach their expectations in terms of realistic recommendations, and is criticised for ignoring the role of midwives in both normal deliveries and the care of premature babies. It is recognised as an important ‘text book’ aiming to work towards a ‘race of well-nourished, healthy young women as mothers-to-be’. There are scant records of this committee in the RCOG Archive, but over the next few months I will be delving a bit deeper to see what I can find!

Other articles cover the latest teachings on the management of eclampsia, the innovations introduced at the new maternity hospital in Bradford, epilepsy in children, and coverage of a report on health services in Lancashire.

I became delightfully distracted however, not by the discussions on neo-natal mortality and morbidity, but by the release of quarterly figures from the Registrar-General on population, births and deaths in England and Wales in 1948 summarized in the columns of the Midwives Chronicle. This took me on a journey through the Office of National Statistics website, where I found a datasheet compiling birth information from 1938 to 2012, and giving a range of information from age of mothers, babies born outside marriage, and fertility rates. Here are some of the comparisons I made:

Total population England and Wales:

1948 – 43,502,000       2012 – 56,567,796

Infant mortality:

1948 – 35 infant deaths per 1,000 live births

2014 – 4 per 1,000 live births

Birth rate:

1948 – 730,518 live births        2012 – 729,674 live births

Still births:

1948 – 18,399    2012 – 3,558

Mean age of mother:

1948 – 28.5years  2012 – 29.8 years


1948 – 5.4%    2012 – 47.5%

Many of these results will not be surprising, and it is wholly encouraging that the infant mortality rate has dropped to such a low rate. The editors of the Midwives Institute were fulfilling a function which we take for granted so much in the 21st century – the dissemination of information which would otherwise be difficult to find or access. Many midwives would have been able to apply the information regarding the Registrar-General’s returns to their own practices, and perhaps be invigorated to campaign for changes and become involved in regional branches of the Royal College of Midwives.

Another great find for me in this month’s issue was the possible identification of a midwife which has been plaguing me in the last few months! Among a great cache of photographs transferred to the Archive last summer was the repeated image of a member of the Salvation Army. Lo and behold, in July 1949 Midwives Chronicle reported that Miss C Knott, Matron of the Salvation Army Mothers’ Hospital ‘well known to all’ had been decorated with the MBE. Miss Knott was Vice-chairman of RCM Council and Chairman of the Executive Committee, and represented midwives on several committees, most importantly the Central Midwives Board.

Miss C Knott speaking at a RCM function: copyright of the RCM
Miss C Knott speaking at a RCM function: copyright of the RCM

Last of all, should anyone desire the knitting pattern for the ‘charming bed-jacket’ shown below, I will send a copy of the instructions printed in the journal!

Knitting pattern featured in Midwives' Chronicle, July 1949
Knitting pattern featured in Midwives’ Chronicle, July 1949




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