The ‘Golden Age’ of Midwifery in Monmouthshire

In the last few weeks, I have been cataloguing the records of the Monmouthshire County Council midwifery service (Gwent Archives Ref: C/HCM). The collection covers the years 1911-1969, spanning a similar era of social change to the BBC television programme ‘Call the Midwife’.

Each district midwife kept her own records, some covering predominantly urban valley districts, whereas others in the east of the county travelled over a wide rural area to visit their patients. Up to the mid-twentieth century, almost half of children were born at home, and midwives would visit patients regularly throughout the pregnancy and every day after giving birth for two weeks. This kind of continuous personal care is the reason why the 1940s-1960s period is sometimes known as the golden age of midwifery. It also meant a heavy workload for district midwives. For example, one midwife from the collection delivered 91 babies in two years.

The midwives kept Registers of Cases to log their patients and case records which give more detailed information on individuals. Reading the records comparatively gives us an idea of the social and domestic conditions for women in Monmouthshire. Even up to the 1960s, it is common for women to have had seven or eight children whilst under the age of 35. The records also show the growing use of medical drugs. Early registers contain very few entries where drugs were administered. Only three patients out of nine received any drugs at all in this record from 1911. Later, midwives gained certificates in the administration of gas and air, and filled out ‘Midwives Drugs Books’.

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Gwent Archives: Midwife’s Register of Cases 1914, Caldicot area. 

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Gwent Archives: Midwives Drugs Book, Form for Sending for Medical Aid, Pethidine Register, Midwives Drugs Supply Order Book. 

What is immediately noticeable about the records, is that the vast majority of patients are recorded as married and the records do not always give their first names, which would seem to modern eyes to be incredibly impersonal, but might well have been considered respectful at the time. Most of the midwives themselves were also married. Even before the Second World War, married women could be employed as midwives without having to face a ‘marriage bar’ as in the teaching profession. Meanwhile, midwives often recorded the occupation of the patient’s husband, presumably to assess the economic condition of the family. For example, occupations in the Pontypool area in the 1960s included BBC Cameraman, steel worker, painter, insurance management, assistant lecturer, assistant chemist and pattern maker. No occupations are ever noted for the patients themselves.

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Gwent Archives: Midwifery Training Centre, Tredegar. Register of Cases, 1916. 

The collection also includes the patient records of the Tredegar Nursing Home and Maternity Home. The former was initially funded by the Tredegar Medical Aid Society. This nursing home also acted as a training school for midwives in the county, and many births were presided over by experienced midwives with ‘pupils’ assisting. The midwives were often assisted by Dr. A.J. Cronin, the future author of ‘The Citadel’, the novel based on his experiences working for the Medical Aid Society in Tredegar.

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Gwent Archives: Midwifery Training Centre, Tredegar. Register of Cases, 1923.

Bibliography:

McIntosh, Tania. ‘A Social History of Maternity and Childbirth: Key Themes in Maternity Care’. London: Routledge, 2012.

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