Blair-Bell 15: More on the Datnow Papers – Wartime Philanthropy and Heritage

Although a month or two has passed since last documenting the progress on the papers relating to William Blair-Bell held here at the RCOG, behind the scenes a steady impact has been made on the sorting, cleaning, and listing of his papers within the collection of Morris Datnow. As the project reaches its final phase, letters and papers relating to the work of Morris Datnow in his own right, aside from the great Professor Blair-Bell, come to light, with some interesting finds.

The most interesting find has been a letter of November 1959, addressed to Datnow by Ilote Rosenbaum (later known as Russell), living in North London. It seems that Datnow took care of her son, Guenter, sometime previous to or during the war, prior to her emigrating from Germany and extended hospitality to the family at the time of their emigration. The letter goes on to say:

‘Perhaps you will remember that I got about 6-8 boys out of Germany to your farm, who then emigrated to Israel. How very grateful we have been and really still are…’

Ilote goes on to say how she is now a proud grandmother ‘still working with the MRC [Medical Research Council], testing the production of the English Polio Vaccine, and doing besides some research work.’

This is not the only record of Datnow’s wartime endeavours: the volume of ‘Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ compiled by Sir John Peel recounts the following story:

‘…during the war he performed an emergency operation on the wife of a doctor who was away on National Service. The children of his colleague’s wife were taken under his own personal wing, though his own wife and his family were evacuated to the country. He looked after the two small children himself, until his patient was sufficiently recovered to look after them herself.’

A wonderful glimpse at the very personable qualities of a well respected obstetrician and gynaecologist, who comes across as rather reserved and shy in College business, but hugely respected and loved by patients and colleagues in his personal correspondence and testimonies.
Another item worthy of note, among many papers of interest, are the College papers collated by Datnow, including notices, and summary of Council business of the then British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Although many of these items are held in the College collection of papers, their duplication in such a private collection adds context and variety. One particular Council summary which caught my eye is one circulated in May 1938 by the President, Sir Ewen Maclean in which is recorded the donation to the College of a historic publication from Professor Roy Dobbins of Cairo. At this time, the College Library and Museum was forefront of Council business, as Councillors sought to comply with the terms of the will of Professor Blair-Bell, who had died in 1936, by electing a ‘Librarian Superintendent’, while Fellow Aleck Bourne was establishing a museum for the College. With this in mind, Sir Ewen exhorted Fellows and Members to-

‘…become “College Minded” if a somewhat hackneyed form of words be permissible. For example, if you have a worth-while old medical book (more especially if it be obstetrical or gynaecological); an appropriate etching, portrait or otherwise; a decent microscope useful for examination purposes; any one of the many things which may occur to you as being of service; or a patient who may want to associate the family name with a gift of money…think of the College!’

A somewhat loose collections development policy, but the foundations of the unique heritage collection to be found in the RCOG today!

Penny Hutchins, Archivist

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