Our next look at the recently released Midwife’s Tale Oral History Collection is an extract of an interview with Mary Wroe covering her experiences as a community midwife. Mary was born in 1908 in a Yorkshire mining village. She was a miner’s daughter and trained as a midwife in 1931 before returning to her home village to practice as an independent midwife.
One of the reasons Mary chose to work independently was because she was married. At the time hospitals would not employ married midwives unless they’d been widowed. Her extract covers the kind of equipment she needed to do her job and how her local community saw her.
Taken from The Midwife’s Tale Oral History Collection
Interview reference RCMS/251/17
Click below for a transcript of the extract and details of how to access the collection.
Interviewer: Was it quite expensive for you to actually set up and buy all your own equipment?
Mary: It was, yes. Because in those days of course you had to have a pelvimeter and, um, um…
Interviewer: Have you still got it?
Mary: No. To tell you the truth I don’t think I’ve had it since I moved in here. I did have up until a little while ago; I don’t know what I did with it. A pelvimeter and, um, a baby stethoscope, a urine testing kit and a bag. You had to provide your own bags; I had to have a delivery bag and an antenatal bag. So, it was quite expensive to start up.
Interviewer: And your uniform as well?
Mary: To start up. Yes. Well, I did have a uniform because I bought… I had the uniform I had when I was training. So, I didn’t have to buy a uniform. But, uh, I had to buy all this equipment to start with.
Interviewer: I thought the women must have accepted you better though because you came from round here?
Interviewer: And because you were married with a baby. Did that not…?
Mary: Oh, married with a baby, yes. But coming from round here, no, because – have you heard the expression that a prophet isn’t a prophet in his own country?
Interviewer: Oh yes, I do know that.
Mary: And, uh, you know I once was really hurt. I had a woman I’d known all my life and she said to somebody, “I can’t see where she knows so much; she’s nowt but a lass”. ((Laughter)) You know what I mean? And I was 25 then and I’d done four years in hospital besides my maternity. So, I was really quite hurt about it. And then I think of course you, um, you sort of think I’m going to show them. But you see, they felt that experience counted more than training in those days.
Accessing the Collection
Full transcripts of all interviews are freely available on the RCM website: https://www.rcm.org.uk/midwives-tale-oral-history-collection-transcripts
To listen to the full collection, visit the library of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists or email to request free copies of interviews for non-commercial research purposes.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 27 Sussex Place, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RG
Opening hours: Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm
Phone: 020 7772 6309
Audio from The Midwife’s Tale Oral History Collection of Billie Hunter and Nicky Leap (Copyright of the authors)
Photographs reproduced from the archive of the Royal College of Midwives.
Audio and images are not to be reproduced without permission.