The Royal College of Midwives received its Royal name in 1947, but its history extends back to 1881, when the Matron’s Aid, or Trained Midwives Registration Society, was set up by Zepherina Veitch. Veitch was a midwife among the poor at the British Lying-In Hospital near Endell Street in London. She was assisted by Louisa Hubbard, the editor of a women’s journal called Work and Leisure, in a bid to ‘raise the efficiency and improve the status of midwives and to petition parliament for their recognition’.
In June 1886, the name of the society was changed to the Midwives Institute, thus acknowledging that as well as campaigning to improve the statutory position of the midwifery profession, it was dedicated to promoting education and training for midwives. This was largely due to the work of Rosaline Paget, a newly qualified midwife at this time, who was responsible for organising the first series of lectures. In addition to this she was involved in founding the library and club room as well as the journal Nursing Notes (later known as the Midwives Chronicle), which widened not only professional discussion but also membership.
By 1902 the endeavors of the Midwives Institute were realised with the passing of the first Midwives Act for England and Wales. In turn the Central Midwives Board was established as custodian of the Midwives Roll, in order to prohibit unqualified and unregistered women from practicing midwifery.
As the twentieth century progressed, the Midwives’ Institute continued to provide lectures and education opportunities for midwives, and during its early days an employment register was maintained, which could be consulted by the public who were looking for recommended and trained care. The Midwives’ Act of 1936 provided regulations regarding return to practice following a period away from midwifery and passed control of a salaried midwifery service to local authorities. The Royal College of Midwives, as it was by then known, subsequently became the main provider of the five-yearly residential statutory refresher courses for midwives, and developed teaching and courses in clinical practice.
After the Second World War, there were major changes in the administration of health care and also in the organisation and provision of maternity services, including the move from birth at home to birth in hospital and the increased use of medical intervention. This along with the introduction of the Industrial Relations Act in 1976, led to members voting to become a trade union as well as a professional organisation, which divided the College into the Royal College of Midwives Limited and the Royal College of Midwives Trust.
As a result the Royal College of Midwives has become the voice of midwifery. The main purpose of the College, which is led by midwives for midwives and those that support them, remains to enhance the confidence, professional practice and influence of midwives for the benefit of child-bearing women and their families, nationally and internationally.