This month’s post is taken from the July 1908 issue of Nursing Notes & Midwives’ Chronicle, and has a very strong Suffragette theme.
‘About twenty members started with the Treasurer from the Club to join the Suffrage Procession on the Embankment. We had a most delightful time and think it was a great pity that more of our members did not join us to walk under the banner bearing the honoured name of Florence Nightingale. We only hope that many of them walked under some other banner.’
So Rosalind Paget (1855-1948), midwifery campaigner and found of the Nursing Notes, described her participation in demonstrations by Suffragists in London, which were the result of a challenge by Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith to be shown the extent of support for women’s suffrage. The editors of Nursing Notes explained very succinctly just why the nursing and midwifery professions were in support of votes for women:
‘It is in order that women may use their political power for the furtherance of social improvements, more especially in connection with these special questions relating to the healthy upbringing and proper education of the children whose care is admittedly their particular sphere, that we claim for them the vote on the same terms as men.’
Discussing the recent Suffragist demonstrations, including those in London’s Hyde Park, the lead article this month looks at how the Midwives’ Act, passed in 1902, suffered in its travel through parliament, and compared this to the struggle experienced by the suffrage bill. In incredulous tones, the article states:
‘[this] was a reform especially, and most vitally, affecting women and children. Yet its fulfilment was postponed by our male legislators, placed in Parliament by male voters, year after year, in a way that would have been impossible had women had voting power behind them, instead of being able only to wield that ‘indirect influence’ so revolting to the straight-forwardly minded, but which some misguided persons consider to be ‘more feminine’!’
The ‘indirect influence’ mentioned is a reference to one of the main objections to granting women the vote – that is, women could use their wifely influence to sway their husband in the way he voted!
The article also expresses regrets that nurses have been prevented by their associations and institutions from taking part in the suffragist processions, and sees this as ‘an unjustifiable interference with their liberty of personal opinion and action…’ Supported by testimonies from the MP William Rathbone, who was a life-long supporter of district nursing and women’s suffrage prior to his death in 1902, the article has its final word from Rosalind Paget:
‘My experience has taught me that without a vote the views of women are not considered in regard to the making of laws that concern them. I pay taxes; I want a word in the spending of the money. At this moment I am neither a pauper, a certified lunatic nor a criminal, but being a woman I am classed with them.’
Among other interesting articles in the journal, is the reproduction of a leaflet written by Sir Francis Champneys relating to symptoms and severity of cancer of the womb. This leaflet can be found in the RCOG Archive among the papers of Sir Francis Champneys (Reference S68), and urges women not to mistake ill-advice about the ‘change of life’ with the need to consult medical practitioners regarding symptoms.
It is evident that there was much discussion at this time surrounding the issue of midwives calling GPs in the event of emergencies, and also an interesting debate on beds versus cots for sleeping babies, including the suggestion that babies placed in cots in poorer households are possibly more likely to have been given a soothing syrup (ie opium) which was far more dangerous than sleeping in a mother’s arms.
Among the ‘Notes for Nurses’ section there is lovely report on the recent Franco-British Exhibition at ‘White City’, including ‘the London Hospital Exhibit’ presided over by a Sister and nurse to demonstrate surgical appliances on ‘life-like dummies’, together with the vehicle in which Florence Nightingale toured the Crimea. This exhibition was held in the Shepherd’s Bush area of London to celebrate the signing of the Entente Cordiale between Great Britain and France, an area which was named the ‘White City’ after the white buildings which were erected to house the exhibition. Today nothing remains of the exhibition site, which has hosted the BBC Television Centre, a housing development and most latterly, Westfield Shopping Centre.
I will end with a promotional offer to midwives of a new system for supplying hot water throughout a building – the ‘Circulator’, which could ensure a supply of hot water either independently of a kitchen range or in conjunction with one:
‘A considerable and rapidly increasing number have been fitted in London, and according to the users, are proving most satisfactory and a very great convenience. We have seen one in use, and can fully realise what a boon it is, especially in hot weather, when a constant hot water supply without the need of a fire, is the greatest comfort.’