Word of the Month: de Ribes Bag

Welcome to the RCM Heritage Blog’s newest feature: Word of the Month. In it we take an entry from The Midwife’s Pronouncing Dictionary and Encyclopaedia, beginning with the 1929 edition, and provide some historical context using the museum, archive and library collections of the Royal College of Midwives.

In a world long before smartphones and the internet, these concise, convenient and portable midwives’ dictionaries provided community midwives with an up-to-date reference guide for obstetrical and gynaecological terms. These dictionaries covered everything from equipment names to birthing positions to general anatomy. Inside a practicing midwife would also find useful advertisements for uniform and midwifery bag suppliers, Centigrade and Fahrenheit conversion charts, templates for case sheets and labour ward reports, and a copy of the Central Midwives Board’s Rules for Midwives.

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An advertisement and introductory page for The Midwife’s Pronouncing Dictionary and Encyclopaedia (1929) from the RCM Library collection

The 1929 edition of The Midwife’s Pronouncing Dictionary and Encyclopaedia was originally edited by Henry Robinson, Obstetric Officer at St. George’s Hospital, and revised by J.K Watson, author of A Handbook for Nurses. These reference guides were a vital tool in the education of midwives and were designed to ensure that specialist medical terms were clearly understood and communicated.

Not Robinson and Watson were overly strict, however! Realising that regional differences might alter the pronunciation of the words, the authors of these encyclopaedias were quick to add ‘that many scientific and medical terms are pronounced in different ways by equally well-educated people.’


This week’s Word of the Week is De Ribes Bag (pronounced der Reebz)

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A De Ribes Bag is a bag made from rubber and encased in silk, which can be introduced through a partly dilated cervix using forceps and then pumped full of sterilised water to stimulate the contraction of the uterus, inducing labour. The bag was used for the artificial dilation of the cervix during obstetrical procedures.

Designed by Champetier-de-Ribes in 1887, the De Ribs bag replaced an early form developed by Barnes in 1851 and the design was later enhanced further by Voorhees in 1897. De Ribes claimed to have learned the idea for the bag from a former teacher who demonstrated a small round balloon for the induction of labour.

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De Ribe’s hydrostatic bag and introducer from the RCOG Museum Collection. The bag is designed to be gripped by the hollowed-out blades of the introducing forceps.

De Ribes bags received a mixed reception from the medical community in Europe and America. Some were critical of the bag’s bulkiness, its fragility and how expensive they were to obtain. The use of Barnes, de Ribes and Voorhees’ bags continued through the first half of the 20th century.

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