Today is International Day of the Midwife, a day which was initiated by the International Confederation of Midwives twenty-four years ago to recognise and raise the profile of the knowledge and skills of midwives across the world.
The idea of an international union of midwives was established and developed in Belgium in 1922, and led to the formation of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) in 1954. The first International Day of the Midwife was held in May 1991 following an international agreement made in Japan in 1990 between the ICM, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund for a plan of ‘Action for Safe Motherhood’, calling for international support to alleviate midwife shortages.
Readers of this blog will know how I love to discover new things in the RCOG and RCM Archive, so you can guess how happy I was to find an order of service for the religious service held at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the first International Day of the Midwife in 1991. The service was arranged by the RCM, which has had a strong association with the ICM throughout the years, and was attended by the College’s patron, the late Queen Mother. During the service, a procession moved down the Abbey carrying objects representative of gifts being sent by the RCM to Sierra Leone and Kazakhstan as part of the Action for Safe Motherhood initiative. These included a model Landrover, books, teaching models, and a purse to represent contributions to the appeal fund from RCM branches. The objects were carried by midwives from across the country.
The order of service is reproduced below, together with the statement of intent read at the service by Joan Walker, Secretary of the ICM. I searched in vain for some photographs of the service, particular after finding a tantalising letter written by Ruth Ashton, RCM General Secretary at the time, to Virginia Bottomley, who was Secretary of Health in 1991, in which she mentions sending her photographs of the service to remember the day by! Sadly the RCM photograph collection does not have any copies of these photographs, but I did find some wonderful images taken of other occasions, and I hope to share these on another day!
Meanwhile, to all our midwives, happy International Day of the Midwife!