This month’s post comes from the October 1927 issue of the Nursing Notes and Midwives’ Chronicle.
Sadly the 1927 volume of the journal held here in the library of the Royal College of Midwives is a photocopy – possibly an indication of the library’s previous policy of lending out books and journals to members far and wide! Format aside, the content was enough to send me exploring different topics as I turned the pages to find out what midwives were discussing in a period of British history which saw much innovation and progression within a setting of economic depression.
And it is exactly this feeling of being caught between two worlds that we find in the reports and articles in this journal. A leading article on the now obsolete ‘Health Week’, instituted in 1912, deplores the fact that midwives have been omitted from the ranks of health professionals included in the ‘celebrations’ to focus on health as a chief topic of public concern: the editors naturally point out ‘There is probably no group of workers who have more influence with the mothers of the nation than the midwives, and certainly no progress in health reform will ever be made without the co-operation of our mothers’. The editors saw Health Week as a useful vehicle to convert mothers and midwives to the desirability of ante-natal and post-natal care – which brings us nicely to another article in the journal!
This is in the nature of a complaint from a ‘Practising Midwife’ relating to the introduction of documented antenatal checks required by the Central Midwives Board. One of this midwife’s arguments, apart from the fact that she saw herself as an excellent midwife and nurse but poor clerk, was that the process of women booking themselves with a midwife could be so informal as not to allow for the taking of preliminary antenatal checks:
‘Would it surprise you to know that very often when a midwife is passing through a shopping centre, an old patient will meet her and whisper, “Put me down for next February!”…it would be a great nuisance to the patient if the midwife was continually at her door, as it is advertising what she is most likely seeking to hide as long as it is possible.’
Further reflection may suggest that it is only by the introduction of such antenatal checks that generations have been able to move away from stigma and prejudice associated with pregnancy in society. The reply of the journal editors, although expressing sympathy, is rather dismissive, believing that such arguments are ‘the voices of many of the older-trained practising midwives…and countrywomen set in the ways’. Twenty-five years after the passing of the first Midwives Act, it seems that there were still older unregistered midwives who were actively practising, and this could very well explain this reluctance to move from older practices and procedures. The journal reports on prosecutions carried out against unregistered midwives in the Kent area, made possible by the recent passing of the 1926 Midwives and Maternity Homes Act. This Act dealt with Amendments of the Midwives Acts, 1902 and 1918, and removed difficulties experienced in the prevention of practice by unqualified persons, allowing for conviction without having to prove that an unregistered midwife had attended for personal gain in the absence of a medical practitioner. Interestingly, male persons as well as unqualified women were brought within the scope of the law, but exception was made where attendance was proved to have been in a sudden emergency, or was undertaken by trainee practitioners or midwives.
It was however the tiny advertisement reproduced below which caught my eye and resulted in an interesting trawl of the internet!
‘Brighton – Comfortable Board-Residence for Tired Workers, 13 Victoria Road, Brighton. Hostess: Miss Turner. Personally recommended.’
My research told me that 13 Victoria Road, now managed by the University of Sussex as accommodation for mature undergraduates, is a white terraced building built at the turn of the century in the heart of ‘New Brighton’ and a stone’s throw away from the pavilion and pier. As ‘Sea View’ it was run as a guest house by Miss Minnie Turner, a Brighton resident, attracting mainly professional women, such as teachers, doctors and nurses. Among the visitors were also prominent members of the women’s suffrage movement, including Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison, and Annie Kenney. Minnie Turner had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908 following her frustration with the Liberal Party’s lack of support for women’s suffrage (she had been honorary secretary of the Hove ward of the Brighton and Hove Women’s Liberal Association for 12 years previously). Apparently the guest house was often so full that a wooden hut and potting shed in the garden were used to accommodate more guests! (Source: http://www.cmpcaonline.org.uk/page_id__85_path__0p36p21p52p57p.aspx) More about this can be found on the Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance website. I must admit that it was the application to ‘tired workers’ that appealed to me most!
To end, it may interest readers to know that a midwife’s case of the type featured in the advertisement from this month’s issue below, is currently on display in the RCOG Library as part of our First World War display.