The Midwife's Tale Transcripts
These oral histories were recorded during research for the book The Midwife's Tale: An Oral History from Handywoman to Professional Midwife and were donated to the RCM archive in 2014 by Professor Billie Hunter and Nicky Leap.
Alice Forrest was born in Dulwich, South London in 1903 to a well-off, middle-class family, and had one son by caesarean section in 1937. The interview covers her experiences as a mother during the 1930s to 1940s, including details of social conditions, caesarean delivery of her baby in hospital, war time, baby gas masks, pain relief, and feeding.
Bronwen Hill was born in 1897 in Swansea, South Wales. She trained as a nurse in 1919 and worked as a district nurse/midwife in the docklands area of Swansea until her marriage. The interview covers her experiences as a midwife, including training in London (1925), her role as a midwife in Swansea, caesarean sections, unmarried mothers, delivery of the placenta, her marriage to a doctor, pain relief, own experiences of childbirth, and social conditions.
Edie Martinson was born in London in 1902 and came from a working-class home. She married in 1920 and had five children between 1920 and 1935, two of them dying in early infancy. The interviews cover her experience as a young mother in London (1918), including childbirth, midwives, social conditions, death of her first baby to enteritis and third baby to poverty, her service with the Land Army during the First World War, her different jobs to support her family, marriage breakdowns, sexual knowledge, contraception, abortions, benefits, and health during pregnancy.
Edith Burgess was born in Hull in 1894 to a working-class family. She trained as a midwife in Newcastle in 1921 before moving south to London, where she worked in a maternity home in Lambeth for 50 years. The interview covers her experiences as a midwife, attitude to unmarried mothers, social conditions, positions at Burnley, Lancashire, and with Lambeth Borough Council, pain relief, delivery techniques, feeding for mothers and babies, conditions in the homes and in the hospitals, infections and maternal mortality, relationship between patients and midwives, delivering breech babies, antenatal care, treatment for jaundiced babies, memories of her association with the Royal College of Midwives, sexual knowledge, and disposal of the placenta.
Elizabeth Callister was born in Ireland in 1905 into a working-class background. She trained as a midwife in Bradford during the 1930s, following which she worked as a district midwife in Battersea for many years. The interview covers her experiences as a midwife, including her training as a general nurse at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (1938), midwifery training in Bradford and Wakefield, hospital work in Grimsby, on the district in Battersea, social conditions, different attitudes on hospital births and fathers being present at the birth, existence of handywomen, sexual knowledge, methods of delivery, pain relief, health and diet, abortions and family planning, and the relationship between midwives and doctors.
Elsie Kirk was born in 1904 in Lancashire and trained as midwife in 1935 in Derby. She worked mostly in hospitals but also undertook some private cases with wealthy families, ‘living in’ before and after the birth. She later became a midwife tutor. The interview covers her experiences as a midwife, covering her training at the Nightingale Hospital, Derby, and role as a midwife (from 1935), nursing training in Shrewsbury, hospital housekeeping training in Leeds, training for the midwifery teaching diploma (1944), and service at the Queen Mary Hospital until retirement (c.1960), conditions in the district, role of handywomen, social conditions, knowledge of sex and pregnancy, birthing positions and methods of delivery, maternal deaths, role as an examiner for the Central Midwives Board and methods of examination, antenatal care and mother craft classes, memories of Miss Foxton and Miss Knott, giving of enemas, birth of disabled babies, pain relief, and breastfeeding.
Esther Brading was born in Portsmouth in 1916, and trained as a nurse, then midwife during the Second World War. Apart from an initial spell in a small maternity hospital, she worked as a district midwife in the working-class area where she grew up, and continued to work after having children. The two interviews cover her experiences as a midwife in Portsmouth, social conditions, babies’ clothes, naming of babies during the war, rationing, delivery positions, donation of breast milk to hospitals, breast feeding, evacuation with mums to Liphook, Hampshire, training in Croydon during the War, details of the Blitz and delivering her first baby during a raid, wartime rations for pregnant women, antenatal care, pain relief during labour, episiotomies and examinations during labour, methods of delivering the placenta, maternal deaths, cot deaths, postnatal depression, the religious tradition of churching, the relationship between midwives and doctors, role of handywomen, breech deliveries, changes in society, and her own experience having a stillborn baby.
The interview covers Osborn’s family life and education in London, nursing training at Bishops Stortford and maternity training at Hertford (from 1935) and Perivale, conditions at Perivale, training for Part 2 midwifery at Bexleyheath, qualities necessary for midwifery, experiences on the maternity wards at Wimbledon, as a children’s fever nurse in the East End, social discrimination, buying uniforms, stories of abortions, hygiene on the wards and in the theatre, conditions working on the district in Bexleyheath during the Second World War before joining the Army, attitude to disabled babies, extending her midwifery experience at Farnborough in 1946, potty training, limited notes on her experiences in Uganda, and the East End Hospital from 1950.
The interview covers Wright’s experience as a midwife, including her training (1938–1939) at Peckham Salvation Army Mother's Hospital, memories of her own mother’s role as an untrained midwife in Great Yarmouth, reactions to high mortality rate of young children, acting as midwife in evacuation centres during the Second World War, changes brought about by the introduction of the National Health Service, access to contraception, uniforms, unmarried mothers, social conditions, environment as a Salvation Army midwife, postnatal care in the nursing homes, and cases of adoption.
The interview with Isobel Green (under the pseudonym ‘Hannah H.’) covers her experiences as a mother in east London, including wartime experiences, baby food, antenatal and postnatal care, social conditions, introduction of the National Health Service, and lack of contraception.
The interview covers Durnford’s experiences as a mother in south London during the 1920s and 1930s, including the doctors, handywomen and midwives who assisted at her deliveries, illegal abortion, illegitimacy, and knowledge regarding sex.
The interview covers Wood’s experiences as a mother in London in the 1930s, including discussion of her deliveries, social conditions, evacuation during the war, and baby clothes.
The interview covers Nicholson’s experience as a mother in 1931, including her knowledge of birth control, milk substitutes, availability of antenatal care, difference between hospital and home birth, preparations needed for home birth, and the death of her eldest son from haemophilia.
The interview covers Cuzner’s memories of her mother as a midwife in London during the early part of the twentieth century, and her own training as a midwife and nurse during the Second World War, including experience as a midwife in Malta (1954–1959), the introduction of antenatal care, discussion of delivery positions and place of birth, premature babies, and contraception.
The interview covers Mary Thorley’s and Sissy S’s memories of the midwife, Elsie Walkerdine, including Mary's role as unofficial helper to Elsie, breastfeeding, nutrition, midwifery equipment, and Sissy's experiences of childbirth during the 1930s, with Elsie as midwife.
The interview covers Thorley’s friendship with the midwife, Elsie Walkerdine, accompanying her on her rounds at the end of the Second World War, pregnancy complications, the midwife’s duties, payment of midwives, home births, and roles of handywomen, and experiences of a mother whose daughter had been delivered by Elsie.
The interview covers Wroe’s career as a midwife in Leeds and Sheffield, Yorkshire, during the 1930s, including her experiences as a married midwife working in the district, the problems of infection, payment, social conditions, food supplies, babies’ clothing, traditional remedies, breastfeeding, midwifery equipment essential for working on the district, existence of ‘handywomen’ to support doctors in the place of qualified midwives, benefits of home deliveries, antenatal care, unmarried mothers, birth control and abortion attempts, conditions in the labour ward at Leeds, delivery positions and problems, preparations for home births, difference in experiences in nursing homes, pregnancy and delivery complications, memories of delivering babies during the Blitz, and the consequences of lack of family planning.
This interview with two sisters cover the memories of their mother and the birth of her eight children by a local ‘midwife’ in South Shields during the 1920s and 1930s, including preparations for the births, home-made remedies, the handywoman's role as general nurse in the community, vaccinations, social conditions, lack of sex education, illegal abortions, wartime experiences, and prevalence of TB and death.
The interview covers Lambert’s and Anderson’s experiences as domiciliary midwives during the 1940s and 1950s, including discussion of a midwife’s intuition, place of birth, relationship between midwives and doctors, as Queens nurses in Saffron Walden, modes of transport, effect of the Second World War on nursing services, payments for childbirth, training, experience with thalidomide and other disabilities, delivery positions, pain relief during childbirth, destruction of the placenta, methods used during complicated deliveries, resuscitation of babies, antenatal and postnatal care, cot deaths, breastfeeding, social conditions, existence of handywomen, anecdotes of births they attended, and emergency obstetric services.
The interview covers Forbes’ experience of having a baby in 1921, her work in a local factory during her pregnancy, and family life.
The interview covers Wright’s memories of his mother and her many pregnancies during the 1920s, father’s occupation as a fisherman then labourer, living conditions for a large family, mother’s training as a fever nurse and her role in the community as untrained midwife and to lay out the dead, wartime experiences, and his own experience as a nurse at the Yarmouth Naval Hospital.
This interview covers Good’s experiences of childbirth during the 1920s and 1930s, including baby clothing, nappies, recommended sleeping positions, her mother’s training as a midwife for the council in East Ham, deliveries, multiple births, delivering the afterbirth, baby feeding, and laying out dead bodies.
The interview covers Hodges’ midwifery career, covering her nursing training at Hillingdon and Uxbridge (1923), midwifery training at Plaistow (1927), evacuation to the Midlands with mothers during the war, as matron of a small maternity unit for evacuated mothers near Leicester (1939–1944), and as district midwife in Walthamstow (1944–1960), including lack of sex education, first experiences of delivering a baby, payment for deliveries, social conditions, maternal deaths, pregnancy complications and antenatal checks, birth positions, and disposal of the placenta during home births.
Interview with a group of pensioners relating to their experiences of childbirth during the 1920s and 1930s, including details of social conditions and poor housing, home births, payment of medical costs and insurance, antenatal clinics, lack of sex education, preparations for home births, working conditions, and childcare.
The interview covers Crenin’s experiences of childbirth between 1918 and 1932, including attitudes to sex and marriage, hospital conditions, attendance by doctors, nurses and handywomen, abortion, preparations for the baby and delivery at home, social conditions, and breastfeeding.
The interview covers Wells’ experiences of childbirth in 1936, including delivery of her son by caesarean section at Middlesbrough Hospital, problems with breastfeeding and treatment for breast abscesses, her husband’s reactions to having a baby, payment of medical costs, social conditions as a builder’s wife, attitudes to sex and lack of sexual knowledge and education, the lack of antenatal care, her wartime work at a local post office, feeding the baby and potty training, and attitudes to women working.