There are two distinct themes in this month’s Nursing Notes: the fate and welfare of the nation’s elderly, and the search for a solution to restrictions placed on midwives to administer pain relief during deliveries.
The headline article of the February 1955 issue of Midwives Chronicle & Nursing Notes looked at restrictions placed on midwives in the use of analgesics during childbirth and prompted midwives to ask themselves if they were doing everything possible to relieve the pain of labour for mothers. Anaesthesia during childbirth is a subject which kept the midwives and their sister institution, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, busy for many years, in particular during the 1930s and the 1940s, when the initial investigation into the use of analgesia by midwives was made by the RCOG. But it was during the 1950s that a Joint Sub-committee combining the Medical Research Council’s Committee on Analgesia in Midwifery and the RCOG’s Anaesthetics Committee for Clinical Trials of Trilene Inhalers responded to requests made by midwives for research into new methods of producing analgesia suitable for midwives to use, and launched a combined investigation. The joint committee conducted clinical trials between 1952 and 1953, comparing the use of gas and air with new methods of administering trilene and pethidine during deliveries. The results of the trial were incorporated into new regulations drafted by the Central Midwives Board permitting midwives to administer trilene as an analgesic on their own responsibility. There were two types of inhalers recommended by the CMB, and the makers of one, the Tecota Mark 6, quickly made use of the advertising space in the journal to promote their equipment.
The focus on the elderly seems very far from the essential duties of midwives to assist in bringing a new generation to life, but it actually is very indicative of the RCM’s mission to support their
members from training to retirement. The Royal National Pension Fund for Nurses (advertised below) was a fund which had grown and developed with the College itself. The article looks at care given to the elderly in the community, through carers and care homes, and in particular looking at voluntary organisations such as the National Council of Social Service and the National Old People’s Welfare Committee, and the services of ‘nightsitters’ – women recruited and paid by voluntary organisations to sit up with elderly people who needed ‘watching’. The National Old People’s Welfare Committee also held short training courses for matrons and assistant matrons for care homes, aiming to recruit those with an interest in the welfare of the elderly in possession of some nursing experience. The article is accompanied by some delightful photographs of the elderly, including a Darby and Joan Club!
I was interested to see a fascinating article written by the Honourable Eve Chetwynd SRN SCM on the Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery in Kentucky, USA, where she served as an instructor for six months in 1953. Eve Chetwynd has her own place in the RCM Archive, and is an intriguing figure – a member of the establishment who turned her skills towards nursing and midwifery, and in particular towards teaching. The collection in the archive consists of 4 black and white photographs showing her at work delivering a baby at home and giving instruction in an antenatal clinic, and includes a lovely image of Matford District student midwives with their bicycles and their teachers with their cars outside her home on the Hereford Road in 1953 (shown below). Back to the Frontier Graduate School though, and Eve talks us through the progress in instructing new generations of US midwives, the history of the school and its founder, Mary Breckinridge, and the syllabus operated at the school, in particular the successful rate of breast-feeding within the district covered by the school in Kentucky:
‘The school has two Jeeps for the use of the midwife and students, and first call on three horses…there are still a few parts of the district which are more accessible on horseback. Equipment is carried in a pair of leather saddlebags…these bags have to be very carefully packed to get everything in, but it is surprising how much they will hold.’
Advertisements were used to full effect by the 1950s, and it seems that much was done to complement the subject of the journal’s articles and reinforce midwifery policies with strategically placed adverts. As ever, the advertisements in the journal are a wonderful snapshot of the era, with black and white drawings of babies, children, nurses and midwives, food, medicine, cutlery, packaging and clothes, and a great indication of the long heritage of brands such as Johnsons & Johnsons, Robinson’s, Lucozade, Butlins, Sanatogen, and Bovril!
Records of the RCOG’s Anaesthetics Committee for Clinical Trials of Trilene Inhalers (1951-1954) can be found at reference RCOG/T12 in the RCOG Archive, available for research by appointment.
The photograph collection of Eve Chetwynd (1953-1963) can be found at reference RCMS/213 in the RCM Archive, available for research by appointment.