Heritage collections relating to women's health

Fantastic Finds for Friday: RCOG Christmas Cards

1931 Christmas Card

1930 Christmas Card







RCOG co-founder, Professor William Blair-Bell, can be credited with starting the Christmas card tradition at the College, with his card to the Fellows and Members in 1930, in a move which he explained to his Honorary Secretary, William Fletcher Shaw, as a way to ‘increase the personal interest of the Fellows and Members in the College’. This first card was very simple: the College crest in colour with description of the College arms on the reverse, and sent from Professor Blair-Bell’s private rooms in Rodney Street, Liverpool.

A second card in 1931 apparently included an illustration of the College robes worn by Fellows and Members, but sadly a copy of this card has not survived. However, we do have the card sent out in 1934 by College Honorary Treasurer, Eardley Holland, later to become President of the College. Inside this card was a chart showing progress of income and funds for the College from 1929 and the optimistic hope inscribed on the reverse that Fellows and Members ‘will keep this for recording Amounts year by year from the Annual Reports’.

Eardley Holland's card

Eardley Holland’s card

It was Sir William Fletcher Shaw who revived the custom of sending cards at Christmas to the membership, and in 1938 he sent a replica of Blair-Bell’s original card. A follow-up was forestalled by the Second World War, ‘a time of anxiety and cards seemed out of place…The following year things were too desperate to allow of the printing or posting of cards.’ It was Sir Arthur Gemmell who began again the festive tradition, and although his cards were rather austere, the 1954 card made an attempt to celebrate the College’s Silver Jubilee year.


1954 Silver Jubilee card

1954 Silver Jubilee card

However, it is not the cards sent out by College Presidents that interested me most on searching through the College Archive, but this rather unexpected find of a card signed by Clementine Churchill, wife of Sir Winston Churchill. It shows the great statesman dressed in military uniform and rubber boots in the snow, the trademark cigar in his mouth, and on the reverse, Sir William Fletcher Shaw had written ‘Christmas card from Mrs Winston Churchill with whom we worked closely on pregnant wives and the armed forces in World War II’.

Clementine Churchill's card

Clementine Churchill’s card


Explore Your Archive 2014: A volunteer’s experience at the RCOG

Chiara Codeluppi joined the archive at the RCOG in October 2014 on a voluntary work experience placement to learn more about how archives are managed in the UK and to extend her already extensive archival experience. Getting to grips with Adlib and records management processes, her enthusiasm is evident in both her work and in the following article, which she wrote for Explore Your Archives week.

My name is Chiara and I am an Italian archivist in London. My passion for historical documents and for the archives comes from the love I feel for history. This passion grew up when I was writing my degree thesis: I had to attend several archives to write it, and in that moment I understood how fascinating places the archives are. Until that moment, I had studied history in the books, in an archive I could study history directly from the source!

So, after getting my degree in art, I decided to go the School of Archive, Paleography and Diplomatics at the Archivio di Stato of Modena; I got my Diploma in June 2008 and, with a lot of enthusiasm, I started to work: at first, I had an internship at the Regio Theatre in Parma, then I worked in Municipality Archives, I digitized a bank archive and I worked as genealogist.

At the beginning of this year the enthusiasm I had in 2008 was totally disappeared: in Italy, with the economic crisis, the funds for Cultural Heritage have been reduced, sometimes withdrawn, so a lot of people, like me, who decided to work in this field, have lost their job.

So, in June of this year I decided to move here in London. Before coming here, I had an interview via Skype with the archivist at Transport for London Corporate Archive; in June I started my experience at the TfL Corporate Archive. Now, I am volunteering in two archives: I began in the Archive of Neurology and Neurosurgery (Queen Square Library) in August and at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists last month.

What does being a volunteer in an archive here mean?

For me, means two things. First, I am learning a job, I am learning experience and with the responsibilities I have, day by day, I feel more sure of myself as archivist in a country which is not mine.

Second, through the way you [archivists in the UK] have to take care about your archives, and their development, is possible to see the respect you have for your past and for your history. Furthermore, through everything you do related to the archives promotion, is possible to see the passion which you have.

For this reason I am learning not just a job: the archivists I have met here are an example to follow and I do hope I will able to live up to them.

Explore Your Archives 2014: ARCHI’VE DISCOVERED!

As I see it, Explore Your Archive week is as much about telling everyone about the amazing stories which have been discovered as well as those which still wait to be told, and here among the collections of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives, there have been two wonderful stories which are just crying out to be shared!

The first relates to a story already shared on this blog back in November 2012, about a midwife, Eveland Hutchings, and her attempts to get the King’s Bounty for a mother she had recently delivered of triplets. Eveland worked as a midwife during the 1920s and was enrolled on the register of the Central Midwives Board in 1921. The collection of papers here at the RCOG feature photographs of her with the children she helped to deliver, together with a letter from the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace, dated January 1926, referring to her application to get a £3 bounty for Mr and Mrs Stevenson of Ilkeston, to help them with the financial burden of having triplets. As a result of this blog, featuring the photograph of Eveland Hutchings with the Ilkeston triplets, the son and daughter of one of the triplets contacted the archive, having found this previously unseen photograph of their mother as a baby with the midwife who delivered her!

Ilkeston triplets

The second story is just as wonderful and also relates to a case of lost and found! In the absence of a full online catalogue, the RCOG and RCM have parts of their archive catalogue included on a national network of catalogues, the Archives Hub. It was the inclusion on the Hub of a special collection of papers relating to obstetrician Dr Walter Spitzer which reunited a family in New Zealand with the son of the obstetrician who saved their mother’s life! Dr Spitzer was a Czech obstetrician and gynaecologist who came to England at the outbreak of the Second World War under a refugee scheme. He subsequently found a position at Kingston Hospital, but his application for Membership of the RCOG was unsuccessful due to requirements of training in the UK. Eric Holman contacted the archive in May 2014 in great excitement:

‘…I have just had the most wonderful news from looking at your website. I have been searching for some years now for information on Dr Walter Spitzer who saved both my mother’s and my life in 1946 in Kingston County Hospital.’

Dr Spitzer attended Eric’s mother when the Harley Street surgeon responsible for the case had handed her over to him, having given up on the chances of her recovery after she suffered fits and an emergency Caesarean Section.

‘My mother told me Dr Spitzer had asked my parents if they would mind writing a testimonial of the expertise and care he provided so as to help get his medical credentials recognised in the UK…we were so happy to see his good work continued in England and that he spent many years at his chosen profession.’

Through the medium of the archive staff, Eric was put in touch with Walter Spitzer’s son, who lives in London and was responsible for donating the papers to the RCOG. The two went on to share stories and photographs, so adding another dimension to the records already held in the archive.


Explore Your Archives 2014: A Day in the Life of an Archivist

As part of yesterday’s national Twitter event among archivists to celebrate Explore Your Archives by tweeting their typical day, I decided that mine would take the form of a blog post. Thus a run-down of my day as Archivist and Records Manager here at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists!

8am – in early to deal with some secure disposals of confidential material resulting from this month’s review of semi-current records. Picked up record (for us) amount of emails resulting from yesterday’s television appearance for Explore Your Archives – at least one being an offer of a donation for the RCM archive.

8.30am – all staff email sent following up clearing up the College shared drive, this time asking staff to delete duplicate and draft files as well as look out for images.

9am – appraisal of boxes of semi-current records

9.30am – guided reader through archive catalogue and discussed possible avenues of research

10am – meeting with staff member to give advice about retention of records, in particular taking responsibility for deleting own digital records at end of retention period.

10.45am – talk with volunteer about contributing her experiences to blog

11am – tweeted link to 1WW blog post from August in time for 2 minute silence.

11.02am – continued appraisal of boxes

11.30am to midday – answered emails with enquiries, offers of material etc.

12.30pm – pulled together records management advice and policies for external but affiliated organisation.

1pm – 4pm – on library enquiry desk, but no archive readers in this afternoon so assisting with general library enquiries.

1pm – completed paperwork required in response to a reproduction request from one of the College’s guidelines.

1.30pm – clear up inbox!!!

2pm – cataloguing of President’s papers, 1970s – bringing legacy catalogue entries on Adlib up to ISAD(G) and also looking out for any stories during the process.

4pm – return all items to store.


Look out for more posts to the blog this week as part of Explore Your Archives week!



Fantastic Finds for Friday: Professor Geoffrey Chamberlain

Our Fantastic Finds for Friday this week follows up the sad news last week of the death of former RCOG President, Professor Geoffrey Chamberlain. Knowing from my previous trawls through the archive that Professor Chamberlain had a choice way with words, I sought out a file of his personal correspondence, collated between 1993 and 1994 when he was College President. I was not disappointed, as the extracts below will show!

November 1993 – on agreeing to undertake a talk at the RCOG for first-year preclinical students on the history of medicine for the Wellcome Trust/Society of Apothecaries course: ‘I would, of course, be happy to meet your students at the museum of the RCOG…I will keep about an hour clear and will take them through the stories of obstetrics, called by polite people history.’

November 1993 – in reply to a congratulatory letter from Arnold Klopper FRCOG, an old friend: ‘I am aware of the problems of medicine at the moment. These are being forced down my neck like a cold snowball every day by the Department of Health removal of central control and rushing head long down the hill like the swine after market forces. I shall fight them, for I have basically a socialist background and will try to ensure that the College maintains standards.’

April 1994 – on providing a testimony for Angela Kilmartin, a pioneer in research into cystitis, he wrote: ‘I enclose a foreword for her book. I did write an earlier version of this, but the dictation tape got de-magnetised and in consequence it could not be heard by my staff. That is a modern variation on the fact that the manuscript was eaten by a dog.’

My favourite piece from this file (and the one which brought a smile to my face and a glance down at my own feet) is the page torn out from the Daily Mail, April 1994, with a fashion article about the wearers of Doctor Marten boots. And as can be seen below, our own Professor Chamberlain was included as a dedicated DM wearer! He explains in the article that ‘I bought my first pair four years ago. A doctor is on his feet a lot and Doctor Marten’s are jolly comfortable. The other consultants were very complimentary. I’ve also got a pair of DM evening shoes which I use for dancing. The image of the football fan with metal caps is one end of the range. This is the other end.’

Professor Chamberlain


Fantastic Finds for Friday: ‘Letters from Dad’ 1925

Today’s Fantastic Find for Friday comes from the papers of RCOG co-founder William Fletcher Shaw, and is something which really shows how unexpected items can crop up in an archive collection. In May 1925, William Fletcher Shaw toured France with his wife, and sent back home to his 11 year old son, William Meredith, letters which were later typed up and bound. Fletcher Shaw senior had just been appointed to the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Manchester, and was obviously making the most of the summer vacation; William Meredith Fletcher Shaw was at boarding school. It starts off ‘I wonder if you know anything about French history? I knew nothing about it when I was a boy…During this holiday I have taken photographs of Chateaux which have played important parts in French history and if I send these to you with a short description of what occurred in them I think you will understand much more of French history than I knew until I grew up.’ He goes on to describe how the history of French and English rulers was intertwined over the years, and his own feelings on seeing these historic sites, including the ruins of the Castle of Chinon, the abbey at Poitiers, and the story of Joan of Arc.

Chinon Castle today

Chinon Castle today

Photograph of Chinon Chateaux taken by William Fletcher Shaw, 1925

Photograph of Chinon Chateaux taken by William Fletcher Shaw, 1925

The letters also include a very emotive description of the dungeons at the Castle of Loches: ‘Just imagine spending years in a room in which nothing can ever be seen, just black unfathomable darkness and yet one man at least spent 12 years here and came out alive. This room was also used for the purpose of getting rid of undesirable prisoners without the necessity of bringing them to trial. An opening in one corner dropped straight down a shaft into the river below; this opening could be left uncovered and the prisoner, unused to the darkness in his made despair feeling along the walls in the hope of finding some door or opening would suddenly fall down and be heard of no more.’ This attempt to educate his son in French history seems bittersweet given that William the younger was destined to die on the battlefields of Normandy in 1944 at the age of 30. This sad fact was summarised by Professor Robert W Johnstone in 1950 in the preface to his William Meredith Fletcher Shaw Memorial Lecture: ‘My personal recollection of him is of a lively and most attractive youth who was determined to do all that lay in his power to ensure the comfort and entertainment of his father’s guests. The same unselfish energy led him early into the Territorial Army, and after six years of active service he was killed in Normandy in the performance of a duty calling for sustained and cold courage of the highest order. Posthumously his gallantry was recognised by the award of the Military Cross.’

Fantastic Find for Friday: Some inspirational female Fellows!

Our Fantastic Find for Friday this week comes from the papers of the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club held here in the RCOG Archive (Reference S108). More specifically, it is this photograph, taken in Manchester in 1937, which prompted me to share this find with the heritage blog! As is the usual nature of our ‘fantastic finds’, I came across the photograph in the course of doing research for something totally unrelated to the blog, this time looking for photographs of the amazing female Fellows of the College who shared their medical skills actively during the First World War. What I found in this photograph was not only new images of Foundation Fellows Dame Louise McIlroy, Margaret Fairlie and Louise Martindale, but also Dame Hilda Lloyd, the only female President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and other ladies for whom we have never been able to find an image. (Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the WVGC)

Women's Visiting Gynaecological Club, 1937 [S108_2_1]

The Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club was founded in 1936 by female Fellows of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, spearheaded by Dame Hilda Lloyd and Alice Bloomfield, in response to the two other visiting clubs, the Gynaecological Visiting Society and the Gynaecological Club, which were closed to women. At this time there were only 12 women holding the FRCOG who were working in the UK, and 9 of these came together for the first WVGC meeting held in Manchester in 1937. The original regulations restricted membership to only Fellows of the RCOG guided by the principle of having a member in each important centre in England, Scotland and Wales, with not more than half the members representing London, and that they should be in clinical obstetric and gynaecological practice. Meetings were held annually and included a Club dinner.

The records were donated to the RCOG by Sheila Duncan FRCOG in January 2009 on behalf of the WVGC, and consist of a history of the club, minutes of meetings from 1951, and photographs of members, of which this is just one.

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


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