Vita Donum Dei: a Hymn for the Royal College of Midwives

You don’t have dig deep to find a special gem in the archives of the Royal College of Midwives. In time for the Christmas season, we recently unearthed an audiocassette tape featuring a 35-yearold performance of a very special hymn entitled Vita Donum Dei. Vita Donum Dei had been the College’s motto since its foundation in 1881 and means ”Life is the gift of God”.

This hymn, written Leeds midwife Dorothy M. Shields, celebrated the centenary of the Royal College of Midwives in 1981 and is sung here by members of the Leeds Branch of the Royal College of Midwives. Dorothy Shields was the Senior Nursing Officer at Leeds General Infirmary and a midwife in York and Leeds. She was also an accomplished musician and organist, and plays during the performance.

Members of the Leeds and District Branch of the RCM outside St. James' Palace in 1981. From the left: Miss F. Plews, Miss J. Little (Branch President), Miss D. Shields (the author and composer of the hymn above) and Miss A. Whittington.
Members of the Leeds and District Branch of the RCM outside St. James’ Palace in 1981. From the left: Miss F. Plews, Miss J. Little (Branch President), Miss D. Shields (the author and composer of the hymn above) and Miss A. Whittington.

To make this video, we digitised the audiocassette version of the hymn, which itself was made from the original vinyl record. The bumps and wobbles you can hear in the audio are the result of three decades of wear and tear on the cassette’s magnetic tape. However, despite being patchy and uneven, the recording manages to capture the lovely, haunting qualities of this performance by a 25-strong choir of Leeds midwives.

A midwife at the first public performance of the hymn in York Minster in 1981 called it “a wonderful hymn. Magnificent experience to hear it sung in York Minster… a feeling of peace and goodwill. An expression of delight felt by all RCM members at belonging to the profession.”

In this spirit, we wish you a Very Merry Christmas on behalf of the Library and Heritage Service of the Royal College of Midwives.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Deborah Hughes says:

    Gosh I remember this, I think RCM members may have been sent a copy of this hymn as an insert or in a mailing.

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