I really do have one of the most fascinating and exciting jobs in the RCOG, and I am often reminded of this on a Friday, the last day of the working week when we are all thinking about our Friday night glass of wine (is that just me?) and the weekend ahead. This is the day that I dedicate to cataloguing the personal collections held in the archive, and surrender myself to the pleasure of sorting through papers untouched by human hands for years, often dirty, pocked with rust marks from old staples and paper clips and in need of some tender, loving care! Most of the time I am engrossed in a large project, such as the re-cataloguing of the papers of Professor Blair-Bell, co-founder of the RCOG, descriptions of which are now on line in detail for the first time (http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1538-s1), and at other times I am caught up in a needy smaller project, such as the new midwife accessions which have been donated in a steady stream during the past year. But the exciting part is that I always find some little unexpected gem that I just want to shout about and share! So the purpose of this regular (I hope) post will be to share these finds with a wider audience than the long suffering library staff (and my equally long-suffering husband!).
The most recent find has been among the deposited papers of the midwife, Eveland Hutchings, who worked as a midwife during the 1920s in the Derbyshire area following her enrolment on the register of the Central Midwives Board in December 1921. The collection contains her training notes and certificates, and a lovely set of studio photographs of her in uniform holding some of the babies she had safely delivered. There is also a black-edged envelope (a sign of mourning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century[i]) addressed to Eveland, dating January 1926, and containing a letter from the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace. It appears that Eveland, on behalf of one of her mothers, had applied for the King’s Bounty of £3, which had been introduced by Queen Victoria for mothers having twins or triplets in recognition of the financial burden often accompanying multiple births. It must be remembered that multiple births were an uncommon occurrence at this time, and rarely did all the babies survive. Further investigation of Eveland’s photographs uncovered a photograph of her with three babies, and a little online searching brought to light a newspaper article from the Ottawa Citizen, dated 13 March 1926, celebrating the rare birth of triplets to the wife of William Joseph Stevenson, an unemployed labourer of Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Mr Stevenson is reported as being ‘obviously perplexed’ by this increase in his family, stating ‘When I knew it knocked me over’ and that such ‘family responsibilities’ always seemed to befall those who could little afford it. A more recent newspaper article, of August 2012, reports the death of the last of the famous ‘Ilkeston triplets’ and also confirms that William Stevenson and his wife received the £3 King’s Bounty, while ‘a firm of manufacturers of a special food for babies has offered to supply the mother and babies with special food as long as is necessary.’
It was exciting to find that there is a photograph of these internationally celebrated triplets and their midwife in the collections of the RCM held at the RCOG – alas we have no record about how the midwife felt delivering so many babies!
[i] The Queen Mother, Queen Alexandra, had died at the end of 1925.