The Royal Maternity Charity and the First World War
On the Anniversary of the end of the First World War it seemed pertinent to look at the collections in relation to this. It might not seem an obvious connection, midwifery and the First World War, but we cannot forget that this was something which affected everybody and every part of life.
Though many midwives joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) during the war, turning their hand to nursing soldiers instead of delivering babies, many remained in their work.
The birth rate during the war was also much lower than in previous years. According to the ONS, There were 879096 births in 1914, this dropped slightly to 814614 in 1915, 785520 in 1916, and more dramatically 668346 in 1917, 662661 in 1918 and 692438 in 1919. However, babies were still being born and midwives were still very much necessary.
One of the collections we have in the RCM Archive are the records of the Royal Maternity Charity. The ‘Royal Maternity Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women in their Own Habitations’ was established in 1757, its main instigator, James Le Cour, an ’eminent jeweller’ of Huguenot descent. By the late nineteenth century the Charity employed the voluntary services of ‘Visiting Ladies’, ‘for the purpose of lending material assistance in addition to medical, in cases of great necessity and destitution’. These ladies visited cases and handed out relief from the Charity’s Samaritan Fund. In 1905 a further venture was a ‘Training School for Midwives’, preparing them for the new CMB examination. This was based at the house of the then Head Midwife in Paddington, with lectures being delivered by one of the Charity’s Physicians.
It is this collection I have chosen to show in this blog. By 1914 the charity had been around for 157 years and at the time of the First World War had H.M. Queen Alexandra as its patron.
One item within this collection is a scrapbook containing, newspaper cuttings, letters, leaflets and other items relating to both the work and prominent members of the Royal Maternity Charity. They were collected by Major G. Lionel B. Killich from 1st January 1905 to 4 July 1918.
Many of the handwritten letters stuck into the book are from expectant mothers requesting help from the charity, many of them with husbands in the war. Spelling mistakes are interestingly all underlined!
One cutting, in the scrapbook, dated 8th December 1917, from the City Press, asks for donations to the charity due to the ‘large number of poor married women, and especially wives of Reservists (Navy and Army), Special Reserve, Territorials, seeking the help of the Charity’. It also claims ‘Over 1,100 wives of Sailors and Soldiers have been helped, after inquiry into their circumstances, since the outbreak of the War’. Another article from the Charity Record, Christmas 1917, says ‘upwards of 2,000 wives of Soldiers and Sailors on service have been assisted since the outbreak of the War. With the appalling loss of life daily taking place, such a Charity as this is a National Asset’. An earlier appeal from 1916 gives the figure of 700 wives.
Another interesting cutting, from the Nursing Times, October 1917, mentions the suggestion that the widows of soldiers ‘desirous of training as maternity nurses’ should ‘take a course of training as a midwife’.
Ending with an image of an article from Nurses’ Own Magazine in October 1914. ‘Maternity During the War’. When this was written, little would they have known exactly what the next four years would entail.
Office for National Statistics and the First World War: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/ageing/articles/theimpactofthefirstworldwaronthe90andoverpopulationoftheuk/2015