The Heritage team are busy sorting out the collections in preparation for our move later this year. One of the good things about this process is getting to look at material which might not otherwise have had much of a look in. I have therefore chosen one such entertaining item from the RCM collections to highlight here, before they all get packed up again ready for the next stage of their journey.
This is a typed copy of a playscript written by students of High Coombe Midwife Teachers Training College in 1971. It is entitled ‘The Old Order Changeth: The Drama of the Midwives Acts’, and looks at the history of the registration and regulation of midwifery. It appears to have been written by Nancy Ashby, Annette Hopkins and Margot Orr.
Act 1 covers the 1902 Act, Act 2 covers the 1918 and 1926 Acts and Act 3 focuses on the 1936 Act with an Epilogue set in ‘modern’ times, or rather, in 1971.
The play opens with a brief overview of childbirth and midwives in Victorian England and a short scene involving a ‘Sairey Gamp’ midwife, as made famous in Martin Chuzzlewitt by Charles Dickens, talking about ‘them interfering busybodies what calls themselves Midwives Institute’.
It then moved on to see Rosalind Paget at 12 Buckingham Street, the headquarters of the Midwives Institute. Miss Paget gives a long speech, discussing the history of improvements to midwifery, mentioning Florence Nightingale along with Louisa Hubbard and Zepherina Veitch before the scene moves to Rosalind Paget and Mrs Brian Wilson composing the obituary for Zepherina in 1894.
Act 2 begins with the line ‘After the passing of the 1918 Act, babies continued to be born, and midwives continued to be badly paid’ and continues with scenes at midwives houses in 1918 and 1926.
Act 3 continues with the development set at the Central Midwives Board and the House of Commons in 1936.
‘The importance of the profession was evident, by the amount of interest the Bill aroused in the house, and by the rapidity with which it passed through parliament, as compared with the stormy course of the first act in 1902.’
It is a brilliant short history of the history of the Midwives Acts and must have made for an entertaining play!