rcogheritage

Heritage collections relating to women's health

Fantastic Finds for Friday: New collection of anatomical drawings, 1840s

Our Fantastic Find for Friday this week is yet again a result of a recent cataloguing project, this time of a fascinating collection of drawings which was passed to the archives of the RCOG last year by our friends at the Royal College of Surgeons.

The watercolour and pen and ink anatomical drawings which comprise this collection were created by Joseph Griffiths Swayne (1819-1903), Professor of Midwifery at University College, Bristol. Swayne came from an established medical family based in Bristol, and his early work, following his graduation from the Bristol Medical School and Guy’s Hospital in London, was as a demonstrator and lecturer in anatomy at the Bristol Medical School. It is thought that it was during this time that he worked on a manual in which he etched illustrations of his own dissections onto copper, a work which was never published. Swayne went on to become physician accoucheur to the new maternity department at the Bristol General Hospital in 1853, and in 1893 was appointed to the chair at University College, Bristol. He is known chiefly for his midwifery text published in 1856 ‘Obstetric Aphorisms for the Use of Students’, of which there are six editions held in the College library, the earliest dating from 1880, and annotated pages from this text are included in the collection, possibly gathered together in preparation for an updated version.

The drawings were originally given to the Department of Surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary by Joseph Swayne’s great-nephew: from there they found their way to the Royal College of Surgeons within the papers of a Fellow of that college. Swayne’s great-nephew wrote in 1974:

‘I think the Swayne ward at the BRI was named for all the members of my family who were associated through the years with the Infirmary…my great-grandfather and his brother did, also two of his sons and my father, his grandson.’

This family history is certainly a complex and fascinating one – the nephew of Joseph Swayne, Walter Carless Swayne, also a lecturer in midwifery at Bristol, was tragically shot in 1925 by his son-in-law, suffering from the effects of his traumatic First World War service.

The drawings within this collection have survived from Swayne’s anatomical work of the 1840s, and vary in quality and subject, covering obstetrical cases but also general surgical cases such as cancer, tumours and skin disease. Some of the images have been reproduced below, but it is hoped to display some of them in the College library in the near future.

 

Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive

Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive

Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive

Reference 2013/2 RCOG Archive

Reference: 2013/2 RCOG Archive

Reference: 2013/2 RCOG Archive

Fantastic Finds for Friday: Eighteenth and nineteenth Scottish contributions to O&G

Our fantastic find for Friday brings us a pertinent reminder that the work of the College ‘transcends political frontiers’ and is a lecture delivered to the College by Foundation Fellow, Professor Robert W Johnstone of Edinburgh in 1949.

The William Meredith Fletcher Shaw Memorial Lecture was established in 1946 by former College President, Sir William Fletcher Shaw in memory of his son who was killed on active service in Normandy in 1944. The lecturer was to be a senior Fellow of the College who, in the opinion of the Council, had, by his professional achievements, improved the knowledge or practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. Professor Johnstone chose as the theme of his lecture in 1949 ‘Scotland’s contribution to the progress of midwifery in the early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, and finding this while cataloguing the papers of Sir William Fletcher Shaw this week, I felt that this was a very timely item to post on the RCOG heritage blog.

Professor Johnstone claimed that during the time of active development of the art and science of obstetrics, it was in Scotland that major achievements were made during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – ‘a contribution of a magnitude out of proportion to her size and population’. He presents a respectable list of names of Scottish-born accoucheurs, midwifery teachers and obstetricians, and these include William Smellie as the great teacher, William Hunter as the great anatomist, Alexander Gordon as the author of wise words relating to puerperal fever, and James Young Simpson as the pioneer in the use of chloroform in labour as pain relief.

William Smellie

William Smellie

Johnstone tells us that Edinburgh had the first Chair of Midwifery in 1726 – the English universities were unable to produce a university professorship until the late nineteenth century. The eighteenth century also saw the introduction of midwifery lectures for medical students in Scotland, thus putting the subject of midwifery on the ‘academic plane and [on] the level of Medicine and Surgery’ for the first time.

R W Johnstone

Professor Robert William Johnstone FRCOG

The RCOG at its inception in 1929 was quick to draw on the experience and reputation among the obstetric profession in Scotland, with 12 of the Foundation Fellows hailing from the Scottish universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. John Munro Kerr, Professor of Midwifery at the University of Glasgow was first Vice-President of the College, and also an important signatory of the original articles of association for the College. There have been to date six College Presidents who have held positions at the Scottish universities, the first of whom was Sir Hector Maclennan during the 1960s.

In terms of administration, Scottish affairs have been recognised by the College from the early days of the NHS, with a Scottish Executive Committee founded in 1950 as a standing committee of the RCOG, ‘to advise the Council on matters relating to the National Health Act in Scotland’. Its first meeting was held on 17 July 1950 in Edinburgh, and the committee continues to represent Scottish needs in the specialty as a sub-committee of College Council.

However the independence vote goes in a week’s time, the College will be sure to continue to represent all needs in the specialty of obstetrics and gynaecology, and there can be no denial of the immense contribution to midwifery and obstetrics made by medics from Scotland.

 

Fantastic Finds for Friday: How a 1920s Medical College Remembers the First World War

Our Fantastic Finds for Friday this week brings you the culmination of many months’ research work here in the Archive – our First World War display, together with a Roll of Foundation Fellows and Members who undertook active service between 1914 and 1918. This has been a real labour of love, sparked by the discovery of a medal ribbon in the College safe some time ago (remember that?) and the important national remembrance of the centenary of the outbreak of the war for Great Britain on 4 August.

So what does a College which was not founded until a decade after the end of hostilities, have to offer in the way of wartime memorabilia? Well, the medal ribbon for a start, which we traced back to Foundation Fellow and College Vice-President, Professor Vivian Green-Armytage. Then some letters emerged which were written by 6th College President Sir William Gilliatt during his command of a medical unit in two London hospitals, and a rather nice letter written by the Royal Maternity Charity to congratulate a midwife who had safely delivered a baby during a bombing raid on London. My crowning moment was the receipt of three tiny photographs of Foundation Fellow, Professor Charles Gibson Lowry in RAMC uniform, donated to the Archive by his grandson and Fellow of the College, Jeremy Macafee. The display also covers the practice of obstetrics, gynaecology and midwifery during the war years, and our ever popular midwife is back watching over the Library, dressed in a uniform of the early 1920s and accompanied by her midwife’s bag.

RCOG 1WW display

The RCOG is also joining in with the remembrance of the many lives touched by the war by recognising the role played by many of its Foundation Fellows and Members, whether as medical officers with the Royal Army Medical Corps or among the many services on land, at sea and in the air. Who knows how many bright and aspiring medical professionals who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918 may have gone on to bring their knowledge and skills to the College for the benefit of women’s healthcare? Instead we can remember the 82 men and women who survived and went on to become Foundation Fellows and Members of the new College in 1929. These names have been gathered together through research in the College Archive, by examining membership lists, and researching resources made online by the National Archives. There will be some that we have missed, and we are hoping to hear about any names that can be added. Of the 82 names on the Roll, 54 served with the Royal Army Medical Corps, 3 with the Royal Flying Corps, 9 with the Royal Navy, 2 with the Indian Medical Corps, and 3 with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. 9 Military Crosses were awarded, 12 Mentioned in Despatches, 3 Distinguished Service Orders, and 3 Croix de Guerre, while other awards received include the Serbian Order of St Sava, the Mons Star, the Croix de Chevalier, the Order of the White Eagle of Serbia, and Legion of Honour. The average age of our Fellows and Members was 28 years at the start of hostilities: the oldest being 52 and the youngest only 14 in 1914. Just under half served in France, while the remainder was spread through the Middle East and East Africa, with 10 serving in Gallipoli.

RCOG Roll of Fellows and Members on Active Service, 1914-1918

I hope to bring you more stories of individuals over the coming months, starting off in November with our three female Fellows and Members and their contributions to the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals overseas. Meanwhile, the display is open to the public, together with the College’s permanent display which covers 500 years in the history of midwifery and women’s health, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm by appointment at museum@rcog.org.uk

 

Fantastic Finds for Friday: The President’s daughter

This week I have been looking at the correspondence files of RCOG President, Sir Hector Maclennan, the redoubtable Scottish President who took the College through a time of major restructuring of nursing services and hospitals throughout the UK between 1963 and 1966. One feature of the correspondence that has struck me is the extent of camaraderie and friendship evident between him and many of his peers, with letters written on first-name terms and debate about medical matters conducted with an air of cordiality and good-will. However, one letter in particular took my eye, and this was written by Maclennan in July 1966, towards the end of his presidency.
A confidential letter to Frank Denny, consultant at the St Mary Abbot’s Hospital in Kensington, sought to appeal to his sense of paternity and friendship: the President’s only daughter, Elizabeth had just announced her first pregnancy – ‘…being a very independent young girl, she has, on the recommendation of her family doctor, booked up to go into St Mary Abbot’s. Having done this she then asked me if this were a reasonable thing to do!’ He asks Denny to ‘be a good chap and keep a fatherly eye on her?’ Denny of course obliged, inviting Elizabeth to visit him and discuss her pregnancy.
Elizabeth Maclennan had married the producer, John McGrath who she had met at university in Oxford. John McGrath has been described as a writer, producer and director for stage and screen, known for his socialism and poetic writing, and his wife starred in his film Blood Red Roses in 1986 and encouraged him to explore Scottish socio-political issues. She also had roles in the Butterfly Kiss (1995) and Last of the Summer Wine (1973), and helped to found the 7:84 Theatre Company (1971) and 7:84 Scotland (1973), performing in plays with the company throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Her brothers were equally successful – Robert was a Liberal Democrat MP, Kenneth a banker, and David was also a co-founder of the 7:84 Scotland Theatre Company and known playwright and producer. Her daughter Kate McGrath is also a successful producer and director.

Sir Hector Maclennan (1905-1978)

Sir Hector Maclennan (1905-1978)

Copyright of Barry Jones and the Scottish Theatre website

Photograph of Elizabeth Maclennan, courtesy of the Scottish Theatre website, photographer Barry Jones

So no more obstetricians in the family, but it seems as though Hector would have taken many a young medic under his wing!

Fantastic Finds for Friday: The medical service and discrimination during the 1960s

As a professional woman in the UK in the 21st century, it is difficult to imagine ‘risking a rebuff’, on the basis of my sex alone, on applying for a position I am more than qualified for. Also I am fairly certain that it is no longer the case that to volunteer for a short period giving aid to developing countries would seriously hamper any career progress or chances of promotion. However, in the 1960s, both these discriminatory practices were accepted and common.

Recent cataloguing of RCOG President Arthur Bell’s papers [Archive Reference RCOG/A4/11/2], dating between 1960 and 1963, reveal a professional world far different from the one in which the RCOG sits today. How crushed must a woman of the calibre of Meave Kenny been to receive Sir Arthur’s reply to her request for advice on applying for the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Queensland, Australia:

‘I am afraid I would have thought it very doubtful whether a woman would have been appointed to a Chair in Australia. There have been very few examples in this country and, as far as I know, none in the Commonwealth.’ (July 1963)

Miss Kenny’s experience was considerable. While in Europe with the Royal Canadian Air Force, she organised postgraduate courses for Canadian and US Air Force doctors, coaching many of them for the DRCOG and MRCOG. She had been invited to lecture in India and during her time there had performed clinical demonstrations and operations for undergraduate and graduate students, and had also contributed numerous articles for textbooks and encyclopaedias. She modestly writes in her letter ‘I understand my operative skill, at least, is the talk of Brisbane!’. I have been unable to find out more about Miss Kenny’s career but I hope that more will come to light as I continue work on the College Archive.

Dame Hilda Lloyd, one of the successful professional female Fellows of the RCOG before 1960.

Dame Hilda Lloyd, one of the successful professional female Fellows of the RCOG before 1960.

Kenneth Hill, Professor of Pathology at the University of London, was obviously aware of discrimination in the medical worlds, and on behalf of the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine drew up a memorandum entitled ‘Medical Service within the Commonwealth and Other Countries Overseas’. Recognising that short term assistance was required in underdeveloped countries, he stressed that the main focus should be ‘in giving doctors a feeling of confidence that, if they serve for a period overseas, their interests will be safeguarded before, during and after their service and they and their families will receive recognisably fair treatment.’ The memorandum also suggests a code of secondment, which would allow reinstatement to original positions for doctors undertaking overseas contracts, with appropriate promotions and salary guarantees. The memorandum ends on a noble note:

‘Medical practice overseas means more than giving essential services to developing countries; it embodies the development of a culture which, dearly wrung from the past centuries, may afford a signpost for a new world.’

The culture today, thankfully, is diametrically opposed to such practices, as is very evident from RCOG strategy which champions the rights of women, professionally as well as with the management of their health care, and works to provide volunteers in underdeveloped countries.

Penny Hutchins, Archivist

International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, 23 May

Friday 23 May has been designated International Day to End Obstetric Fistula by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and is the subject of the recent blog by RCOG President, David Richmond. Dr Richmond highlights the good work being carried out by the College and its Fellows and Members to provide training and treatment for obstetric fistula in many countries all over the world, and this brought to mind the work of one College Fellow back in the 1950s and 1960s, Professor John Chassar Moir.

Professor John Chassar Moir [RCOG Archive, copyright unknown]

Professor John Chassar Moir [RCOG Archive, copyright unknown]

John Chassar Moir (1900-1977) was the first Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Oxford, a post which he held between 1937 and 1967. He was a foundation Member of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1929, a prominent member of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, and described by RCOG President, Eardley Holland as one of ‘the two British Gynaecological Top-dogs’ (the other was Dugald Baird). Chassar Moir is known most for his work on the effects of the fungus ergot and its derivatives on labour, resulting in the isolation of the substance ergometrine, widely used for the reduction of haemorrhage after childbirth. However, Chassar Moir was also a great pioneer in improving techniques of repairing fistulae between the bladder and the vagina, and women were sent to him from all over the country for the operation. In 1961, Chassar Moir published ‘Vesico-Vaginal Fistula’ which was based on the experience he had gained through the years, and he disseminated the monograph to his contacts world-wide. Correspondence held in the College Archive reflects the esteem with which Moir and his work was held, and the monograph was regarded by many as invaluable for their own work in treating fistula.

Fistula instruments used by Professor Chassar Moir, RCOG Museum

Fistula instruments used by Professor Chassar Moir, RCOG Museum

Among the records of Professor Chassar Moir held in the RCOG Archive is an invitation to him made in 1963 from a doctor in Newmarket to witness an operation on a 10 year old mare who had suffered a fistula with her first foal. A veterinary surgeon had learned a technique of repair in America and was attempting it for the first time rather than take the usual course of destroying the mare once the foal had been weaned. Chassar Moir wrote to the vet:

‘I should like to thank you very sincerely for allowing me to watch the most interesting operation on the mare last week. As you know, I have a good deal of this sort of work in the human female and it was therefore extremely interesting to see a similar condition in a horse…I am really very ignorant of matters in the veterinary world, and this is a great pity for I think we could learn a great deal from each other.’

Chassar Moir also supported the work of College Fellows, Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, who had moved from Australia to Ethiopia to establish a midwifery school in Addis Ababa, but had responded to the widespread need to treat fistula by opening a fistula unit instead. A leaflet in the collection describes the ‘fistula pilgrims’ of Ethiopia, women travelling by train, bus, truck and foot to the unit to seek a cure for the fistula which often made them social outcasts and discarded wives. Catherine Hamlin still lives and works for the unit, and over the years many College Fellows have supported the work of her and her late husband, including countless scholarships and grants being awarded to Members and students to go out to assist with fistula in Africa.

So the work continues, and the legacy of RCOG Fellows and Members is remembered today.

Fantastic Finds for Friday: Leeches!

Today’s fantastic find is definitely not for the squeamish! I always come across my best finds during a spot of routine cataloguing, and this week I have been working on some midwifery lecture notebooks which were donated to the RCM collection recently.

These lecture notebooks were written by Ethel Maine as a student nurse and pupil midwife during the late 1890s, and from the scribbled addresses in the back of the book, it seems as though Ethel was studying in the East End of London. The parts of the notebooks which intrigued me were the general nursing notes, in particular referring to the application of leeches as a cure.

There are details on how to apply the leeches to the patient – ‘they are best inverted in a wineglass, which is then inverted over the spot where they are wanted to bite’, how to know which end was the head – ‘A leech always moves head first’, and tips on how to make them bite – ‘the surface should be smeared over with milk, or sugar and milk, or cream’. My stomach turned a bit at the instructions to leave the leech to drop off once repleted, but even more so at directions on how to apply them inside the mouth – ‘a piece of thread should be fastened to the tail, so that you may hinder it from moving too far.’ The handy tip of swallowing a couple of glasses of port wine to poison the leech should it be swallowed by mischance makes the prospect no more attractive!

With recommendations about the best type of leech to use (spotted leech and green leech) and the amount of blood taken by the insect (one dram and a half), and one leech for every two years of age with a maximum of six, I wonder how many students had the opportunity to  put the theory into practice.

In ancient times leeches were used to treat everything from headaches to ear infections to haemorrhoids. Their main use lay in draining blood away from swollen areas, as well as the process of debridement, which is the removal of dead tissue and exposure of healthy tissue. Bloodletting using leeches was one method used by physicians to balance the body, ridding it of ‘plethora’, while cosmetically, women during the 1800s would apply leeches around their face, as they believed it gave them a more radiant look! But the practice largely died out in the early 1900s as medicine advanced and antibiotics took over. There was a small scale comeback in the use of leeches during the 1980s and an increase in the recognition that they can be useful in today’s medicine by aiding blood flow in order to preserve tissue.

Open copyright

Illustration in: Bossche, Guillaume van den, Bruxellas, Typis Joannis Mommarti, 1639 Historia medica, in qua libris IV. animalium natura, et eorum medica utilitas esacte & luculenter…

I would be interested to know just how leeches may have been used in the context of midwifery, and will certainly be on the lookout for references among other parts of the collection!

Fantastic Finds for Friday: One RCOG Fellow and the Second World War

Our Fantastic Find for Friday comes from the papers of RCOG President, Sir Eardley Holland, who was President between 1943 and 1945.

In the summer of 1945, Sir Eardley received a letter from College Fellow, Major Hugh McLaren, who was serving with No.10 British Casualty Clearing Station as part of the British Liberation Army in Europe. Major McLaren had been part of the team involved in the liberation of the camp at Sandbostel, near Bremen, north-western Germany, which held both Prisoners of War and ‘political’ prisoners, the majority of whom were Jewish civilians. On 28 June 1945, McLaren sent Sir Eardley ‘some notes I made while at Sandbostel Horror Camp’ which he suggested might be made available in the College Library if thought ‘worth-while and suitable’. The notes consisted of seven pages of cyclostyled pages documenting his experiences at Sandbostel following its liberation in May 1945, including details of the horrific conditions in which inmates were held, the efforts of medical officers to assist the ill and dying, and the attitudes of nursing staff and civilian women drafted in to assist. He describes the ‘human laundry’ where survivors were sent to be washed, covered in DDT (anti-louse) powder, and wrapped in a clean blanket before being transferred by stretcher and ambulance to the camp hospital. The apathy among the prisoners, in particular the ‘severely emaciated cases’. The extreme efforts of the medical team to endure the testing conditions:

Among the medical officers bets were being made as to which sister would be first to break down. But none of them did break down. They became whiter and whiter in the face. Dark patches were visible under their eyes but it was the German sisters who first went sick or lame. I think the splendid work of the German sisters and women helpers was partly a result of the example shown by the British sisters.’

McLaren was so moved by his experiences that he sought to share them with his fellow medics at home, and probably soon after Sir Eardley replied to this letter, a bound and edited copy of this report was housed in the College library. A copy can also be found at the Imperial War Museum (which, coincidentally, is where I first came across it as a young archivist working at the IWM). McLaren went on to work overseas, and the College hold reports of his work in Ethiopia and Rhodesia, using his influence as Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Birmingham during the 1960s.

http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//48/media-48043/large.jpg

Scene in the blood transfusion ward at Sandbostel Comcentration Camp, May 1945 (copyright of the IWM)

The full report can be found as a special collection under Hugh McLaren’s name in the College Archive (Reference S56), but the existence of this note and report among the President’s papers is made more significant by the photograph (not shown here) which accompanies it simply annotated ‘One of the hundreds of unknown men we buried, 6 May 1945’. 69 years later it is a reminder of the efforts of medical men and women who sought to help victims of such tragedies.

World Health Day, 2014

7 April is World Health Day, and the World Health Organisation this year is running a campaign to raise awareness of vector-borne diseases with the slogan ‘Small bite, big threat’. One of the diseases included in this campaign is malaria, and here at the RCOG we have been involved in highlighting the dangers of this largely preventable disease to pregnant women. The guidelines issued in 2010 as part of the highly regarded Green-top Guidelines covered the prevention, diagnosis, and management of malaria in pregnancy and these can be found on the College website or from the College Library.

 

Going back a bit further in time, I have found a couple of references to malaria in the College Archive. The first is in a notebook kept by the physician Robert Barnes, who practised in London during the late nineteenth century and was affiliated to the Royal Maternity Charity. His notebook kept from1889 and entitled ‘Puerperal Fever’ contains hand-written notes and news cuttings about the nature and treatment of puerperal fever, and includes a curious article from the British Medical Journal, dated January 1890 in which the writer talks of puerperal fever and:

‘…expresses the opinion that the disease is of a malarial character, and that it’s endemic prevalence is favoured or determined by meteorological conditions…the sudden variations in temperature also predispose to the absorption of the malarial poison upon which he supposes influenza to depend.’

 

This definition of malaria is much at odds with our perception of insect-born disease, and a more modern description of managing malaria during pregnancy can be found in case notes compiled by College Member William Rotheram. Rotheram was stationed in the Middle East during the Second World War, and while there he gathered together notes to use on his case book for the MRCOG exam. He describes the management of a 20 year old housewife who came to him half-way through her first pregnancy in March 1944, suffering from high temperature, nausea and vomiting. She had been married for a year, during which time she had spent two months in Iraq. The symptoms together with her domicile in Iraq suggested to Rotheram a diagnosis of malaria, and this was proved by a blood smear. Treatment with quinine, atebrine and plasmoquine resulted in discharge of the patient within a month and a successful pregnancy and delivery.

 

The risks attached to malaria during pregnancy had been documented effectively by GAW Wickramasuriya, who won the Katherine Bishop Harman prize essay in 1936 for his work on malaria and ankylostomiasis in the pregnant woman, based on his experiences in Ceylon. During this period Ceylon had a high prevalence of malaria, which contributed to the high maternal and infantile mortality rates. Malaria was also recognised as a high factor in the production of toxaemia of pregnancy such as eclampsia.

Wickramasuriya concluded that malaria causes intra-uterine death of the foetus by one or more of three ways: massive infection of the placenta with parasites, persistently high temperature, and direct invasion of the foetus by parasites. In fact, the prognosis was and still is, definitely worse for the pregnant woman than the non-pregnant woman.

 

For information about World Health Day and the prevention of malaria, see the WHO website at http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2014/en/.

Fantastic Finds for Friday: Votes for Women!

Although the purpose of this blog is to bring you items which have been ‘stumbled’ upon as I work my way through my daily tasks in the College Archive, this week’s Fantastic Find really is an unexpected find!

I have been looking through some papers of the General Secretary of the Midwives’ Institute, dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, in order to gather material for the next heritage display here at the RCOG. In one of the files I found this image tucked in the back behind the papers. On the reverse is written ‘6th April 1911′ and ‘The Southend and Westcliff Graphic 14th April 1911′.

Papers of the Royal College of Midwives

Suffragette rally, Southend, April 2011

I knew that the midwives had some affinity to the Suffrage movement from articles and notices posted in their journal ‘Nursing Notes’, but there was nothing to clarify why this particular photograph should have found its way into the hands of Paulina Fynes-Clinton, General Secretary of the Institute. Investigation of the 1911 volume of Nursing Notes offered no clues or sign of the image being reproduced there, and there is nothing to suggest that any of the ladies pictured were midwives or nurses.

More investigation provided some context to the photograph: rallies took place all over Europe during the spring of 1911 in support of women’s rights to work and vote, and these were so powerful that they spawned what today is celebrated as International Women’s Day on 8 March. What is more the WPSU had been active in Southend as part of their holiday campaign the previous season and this had obviously left some influence among the womenfolk of this Essex seaside town!

It is possible that some clue to the photograph will come out later, after more work has been completed on the collections – nevertheless, it is a great peek into this particular point in British history and an unexpected find in a medical college collection!

Penny Hutchins, College Archivist

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