Nursing Notes & Midwives’ Chronicle, October 1915: From Earthworms to Air Raids

This blog post was written by Autumn, one of our previous volunteers at the archive of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

This is the month in which British nurse Edith Cavell was executed by the German authorities for helping about 200 allied soldiers to escape from Brussels to neutral Holland. The November 1915 issue of Nursing Notes published an obituary, which we will be looking at in a future post.

This issue, however, concerns itself with lives just beginning. It features maternity centres, a newborn survivor of an air raid and the second half of a lengthy review of a 17th century book for midwives.

According to the leading article, “The Relation of Midwives to Maternity Centres”, midwives can support these health centres’ efforts to reduce infant mortality rates by contributing to the ante-natal well-being of mother and child. The maternity centres, in turn, raise awareness of the importance of midwifery. They also make patients aware of the midwife’s services as an alternative to treatment from a doctor. By being involved in the centres, midwives can keep up to date with the latest thinking and research in their field. The article happily concludes that midwives and maternity centre workers alike are beginning to realise that working together would be mutually beneficial.

In “A Baby the Germans Couldn’t Kill”, a midwife writes in to share the astonishing story of a patient, her husband and their newborn baby all surviving being gassed by a bomb during an air raid on London.

This issue features the conclusion of an in-depth review of The English Midwife by Thomas Raynalde, the first half of the review having appeared in the previous issue. The English Midwife was published in 1682 and it shows! As the reviewer Olive Haydon puts it, the book’s advice to midwives on how to care for pregnant women is “decidedly curious”. The article quotes several of the book’s instructions and suggested remedies, including drinking a mix of powdered earthworms and barley water to stimulate breast milk secretion.

Anatomical diagram from one of Thomas Raynalde's earliest works: 'The birth of mankinde, otherwise named the womans booke' (16th century) from the library of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Anatomical diagram from one of Thomas Raynalde’s earliest works: ‘The birth of mankinde, otherwise named the womans booke’ (16th century) from the library of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Alongside these pieces specifically focused on mother and child are a couple of features that focus more on the midwife as an educator and role model in wartime society. “The Educative Influence of the Midwife” reflects on the midwife’s ability and duty to educate the lower classes on financial management due to her influence on new parents of all classes. The Midwives’ Total Abstinence War League, as heralded by the leading article in the May 1915 issue, is still going strong. In fact the contents page tells us this is the last issue in which we’ll see correspondence about the League, not because there aren’t enough letters being sent in but because there are too many and they’re taking up too much space in the journal. The correspondence published in this issue includes both letters that are for midwives’ abstinence and those that are against it.

Meanwhile the Midwives’ Institute treasurer, Rosalind Paget, is as much on the warpath (no pun intended) as she had been in May. This time she’s reminding Nursing Notes subscribers to pay their subscriptions on time or at least to let her know if they can’t afford to pay right now or are giving up their subscriptions.

Photograph of Rosalind Paget, Honorary Treasurer of the Royal College of Midwives, Mary Stephens, first midwife to appear on the Midwives Roll of the Central Midwives Board and Paulina Fynes-Clinton, Secretary of the RCM with other unidentified but presumably prominent midwives who also campaigned for the registration and education of midwives. According to a note found with the photograph, the picture was taken to celebrate the passing of the Midwives Act in 1902.
Photograph of Rosalind Paget, Honorary Treasurer of the Royal College of Midwives, Mary Stephens, first midwife to appear on the Midwives Roll of the Central Midwives Board and Paulina Fynes-Clinton, Secretary of the RCM with other unidentified but presumably prominent midwives who also campaigned for the registration and education of midwives.

Quite frankly, Miss Paget is making it seem like being treasurer of the Institute was one of the most exasperating jobs of the war!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Hi, thanks for this blog, it’s a bit of a gem in terms of getting an idea of what it was like to be a midwife years ago. The survival/gas attack story is just an incredible glimpse into how the war impacted. I’m writing a book currently which will include midwifery spanning two generations – starting in the 1970s. I wondered what kind of primary sources, letters etc. are in the RCOG library? From 1970-2000? Thanks in advance for any help, I’m not in the country right now so can’t come and look myself.

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