Dates for your diary …

DP Event poster july

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News of the second Knowledge Exchange Partnership study day on Pregnancy and Birth: Changing practices over the twentieth century: Oxford University, May 7th 2016

poster image7mayChanging practices over the twentieth century

The study day to be held in Oxford on 7th May is part of a Knowledge Exchange Partnership, from April 2015-December 2016, conducted by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, the De Partu History of Childbirth Group, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Hardly a week goes by without a story or advice about pregnancy or birth making headline news. The Partnership sets this public fascination in a broad historical context, featuring debates and controversies from early printed midwifery texts to the present day. It aims to widen awareness of the heritage collections of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and of the Royal College of Midwives; and to facilitate dialogue between academic researchers and healthcare practitioners. Our study day on 7th May 2016, held in Oxford, focuses on the twentieth-century birth experience, encompassing antenatal preparation for family life, Leboyer’s theories of gentle birth, and developments in postnatal care in the twentieth century. We shall also have presentations on the RCM’s oral history collection and from the midwifery adviser to ‘Call the Midwife’.


Programme : Study Day on Saturday 7th May, at The Oxford Reseach Centre in the Humanities:

10.15 Registration and coffee

10.30 Welcome (Valerie Worth-Stylianou and Janette Allotey), and presentation on ‘Revisiting The Midwife’s Tale: an oral history collection at the Royal College of Midwives’ by Carly Randall, (Archivist, RCOG)

11.00 Guest speaker: Dr Marie-France Morel (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris): ‘Gentle birth: Leboyer’s theories and subsequent changes to how babies were birthed in France in the 1970s’

12.00 Seminar A: Professor Mary Nolan (University of Worcester) ‘Birth and Parent Education post Dr Spock, 1970-2016: striving to build parents’ confidence rather than destroy it’

12.00 Seminar B: Professor Debra Bick (King’s College London): ‘’Context, culture and contribution of postnatal care over the last century: a missed opportunity for women’s health’

1.00 Lunch

1.40 Seminars A and B repeated ( to allow all delegates to attend each seminar)

2.40 Tea and coffee

3.00 An update on De Partu (Janette Allotey)

3.15 Terri Coates (midwifery adviser for ‘Call the Midwife’): ‘Call the midwife: communicating the art of midwifery though a BBC period drama’

4.15 Concluding remarks and end of study day

Lead contacts for the Partnership:

Valerie Worth-Stylianou, Senior Tutor Trinity College, University of Oxford, and Mellon-TORCH Knowledge Exchange Fellow

Janette Allotey, Chair of De Partu, Honorary Lecturer, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester

 Booking form


To book for the seminar (limited to 60 places), please complete this form and scan or email it (as an attachment) to When your booking is accepted, you will be asked to send payment for £20 (to cover all refreshments, including lunch). There is a reduced price of £10 for graduate students / student midwives or doctors.


Name …………………………………………………………………………………

Email ………………………………………………………………………………….

I am (select one or more)

a student / academic researcher / archivist / midwife / obstetrician / other practitioner / layperson

Name of institution (if applicable) ……………………………………………………..

How did you learn about this seminar (e.g. which website, research group)?


Do you have any dietary requirements for lunch (e.g. vegetarian, gluten-free)?




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De Partu event – September 3rd

De Partu Meetin1-page-001-1

Full day including lunch and refreshments £25; afternoon £15

Please contact or by September 1st 2015 if you wish to attend


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A celebration of midwifery in Scotland: Autumn 2015

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Celebrating 500 years of Pregnancy and Birth

Please click on the image thumbnails below for details of a forthcoming event:

Celebrating 500 years of Pregnancy and Birth:


This is being organised by Professor Valerie Worth (Trinity College, Oxford) in collaboration with the RCOG and De Partu. Attendees may also be interested in attending a De Partu meeting on September 3rd 2015, where there will be an opportunity for members to present papers on work in progress; further details to follow shortly.

Information and booking form – PDF version

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History of midwifery exhibition – Library, RCPSG, 11th, 18th May 2015 – Glasgow

In this centenary year of the Midwives (Scotland) Act 1915, this exhibition takes a look at the fascinating history of midwifery. Works by William Hunter and the man-midwife William Smellie will be on display.

Crush Hall and the Library Reading Room of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow are open to visitors on Monday afternoons from 2.00 p.m. until 5.00 p.m.

Visit the library blog for more information about the exhibitions.

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Sheila Kitzinger 1929-2015

The death has been announced today of Sheila Kitzinger, at the age of 86.

Sheila Kitzinger made a significant contribution to the understanding of birth in its social context from a feminist perspective, and was a catalyst for improvements in maternity services from the 1960s onwards.

She was a prolific author, and became a legend in her own lifetime. Despite her widening fame she was generous with her time, always willing to provide support and help to women and midwives.

BBC News obituary

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Desperate measures: an exploration of 18th- and 19th-century obstetric devices from the Manchester Medical Collection

Desperate Measures poster
Note: the lecture will give an account of the use of these instruments in destructive operations intended to save the life of the mother — some of the ‘desperate measures’ to which the title refers.

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Transforming Pregnancy Since 1900

Around 1900, few pregnant women in Western Europe or North America had any contact with a medical practitioner before going into labour. By the end the twentieth century, the hospitalisation of childbirth, the legalisation of abortion and a host of biomedical technologies from the Pill and IVF to obstetric ultrasound and prenatal diagnosis had dramatically extended the reach of science and medicine into human reproduction. A special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences published this month reflects on the social, medical and technological shifts that have shaped the experience and management of pregnancy since the turn of the twentieth century. Originating in a workshop held in Cambridge in 2012 supported by the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Generation to Reproduction’ project, the special issue is edited by Dr Salim Al-Gailani (University of Cambridge) and Dr Angela Davis (University of Warwick).



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Births and the collective provision of welfare: the long view c.1550-2014

Free public lecture - birth in history

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BBC podcast: Dr Helena Wright talks to Sue MacGregor

The “mother of family planning in the UK” Dr Helena Wright  talks to Sue MacGregor in 1980 about the early days of the Family Planning Association which formed in 1930.

NB this podcast is available for 27 days only – from 17/09/14




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Full text of Midwives Act 1936 now available

A scanned PDF copy of the Midwives Act 1936 can now be downloaded from the Resources page

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Birth: personal stories to population policies – conference

18th-19th September 2014, University of Leeds

This two-day conference, organised by the School of History’s Health, Medicine and Society research group, brings together those interested in the history of birth, fertility, sexuality, demography and family life, from the medieval period to the present day, and in cultures across the world. The conference aims to situate birth in the contexts of family and society, evaluate the attitudes of individuals, groups and governments to birth, explore the impact of birth, and assess changes and continuities in the experience of birth.

The conference programme includes a public lecture by Professor Simon Szreter, a keynote lecture by Professor Kate Fisher, a roundtable on the politics of procreation, and a handling session with objects from Thackray Medical Museum.

Please follow this link for further information and a full programme. There are limited places available for the conference – register now to avoid disappointment.

The cost to attend the conference is £25 (full)/£15 (students, unwaged, 1 day attendance).

At 5pm on Thursday 18th September, we will be hosting a free public lecture by Professor Simon Szreter (University of Cambridge), in association with the History and Policy Parenting Forum. The lecture is entitled ‘Births and the collective provision of welfare – the long view c.1550-2014’, and is followed by a reception. All are welcome, and no registration is necessary.

For more information, please contact the conference organisers, Alex Bamji (< and Laura King (<

Laura King and Alex Bamji

Health, Medicine and Society research group
School of History
University of Leeds
Michael Sadler Building

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The next De Partu History of Childbirth event, to include a members’ meeting and the presentation of papers, will be held at the historic Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester on 14th October 2014.

Chetham's Library

Chetham’s Library

More details of the programme, which includes lunch, a short guided tour of the school and a musical interlude, will follow soon.

Janette Allotey

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New book: Pregnancy and birth in early modern France

This new book may be of interest:

Pregnancy and birth in early modern France: treatises by caring physicians and surgeons (1581-1625). François Rousset, Jean Liebault, Jacques Guillemeau, Jacques Duval, and Louis de Serres. Edited and translated by Valerie Worth-Stylianou (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 2013), ISBN Softcover 978-0-7727-2138-9; Electronic 978-0-7727-2139-6.  (The electronic edition is available to institutions only.)

The flyer (hyperlinked) will allow you to purchase the book from the University of Toronto Press on its website with an early bird 20% discount should any of you be interested in ordering it for your university libraries.

Pregnancy and birth in early modern France











Janette Allotey
School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work
University of Manchester


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De Partu site maintenance

The De Partu site is currently undergoing maintenance. You will notice the new background image (from Muscio, courtesy of the Wellcome Library) and new member login with the logo above. I am pleased to report that I have now identified a solution to the member login issue. The new login box (to be found at the top right-hand corner of each page) will work with the existing member logins, and includes a password reminder facility. Access to the links, archive of blog posts and tag cloud is now restricted to members. Please keep a look out in the coming weeks for additional content, including new images and the full text of the 1936 Midwives Act to accompany those of 1902 and 1918.

Catherine Ebenezer, web editor

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Dr Louisa Owsley, midwife and homoeopath (Texas, late 19th century)

 Dr Louisa Owsley Dr Louisa Owsley – the first female homoeopath doctor of Denton County in Texas. She practised homoeopathic medicine and was a skilled midwife, delivering over 4,000 babies in her 34-year career. She was still working at age 75 when, one night in a bad storm, probably on her way to a delivery, her horse and cart were swept off a bridge, and she drowned.

More about Louisa Owsley

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Book launch: Birth control and the rights of women

Birth control and the rights of women: post-suffrage feminism in the early twentieth century

Birth control and the rights of women: post-suffrage feminism in the early twentieth century

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New resources

Full copies of the Midwives Acts of 1902 and 1918 have now been uploaded to the Resources page.

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Reading and talking about ‘The Woman’s Book’ in Renaissance England

Medical Humanities Sheffield is proud to launch a series of open interdisciplinary lectures, for students, staff and the public.

WEDNESDAY 26 February – 6 p.m. Firth Hall

Professor Jennifer Richards
Reading and Talking about The Woman’s Book in Renaissance England

“Most written knowledge about women’s bodies” in late medieval Europe, argues Monica H. Green, “is to be found in texts composed by male physicians and surgeons, for male physicians and surgeons (or if not for them, then for lay male patrons).” This paper sets out to test this claim, exploring the reception of one popular vernacular book, Thomas Raynalde’s The Birth of Mankind; otherwise named The Womans Booke (1545-1652). There is evidence of male readers annotating their copies of this book. One annotated copy (1565) belonged to the court physician William Ward, and the marginal notes he left behind are revealing: ‘This book in any case is not to be lent [to] anye body’. However, there is also evidence that this book was in fact lent quite widely, including to and by women. This paper will explore this evidence, and try to reconstruct this book’s reading and the discussion of it, not all of which was complimentary…. It will consider what this means for the early history of women’s healthcare and female literacy.

Jennifer Richards is Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture in the School of English Literature at Newcastle University. She has published books on rhetoric and conversation with Cambridge University Press (2003) and Routledge (2007), and many essays including on the reading of vernacular medical books in the early modern period with Journal of the History of Ideas (2012) and Bulletin of the History of Medicine (forthcoming, 2014). She is currently writing a book on shared reading in early modern England with a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, and, with Professor Richard Wistreich, Royal Northern College of Music, she is leading the AHRC Network ‘Voices and Books, 1500-1800’. She is an Associate Editor of the Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities.

Medical Humanities Sheffield

The interface between medicine and science on the one hand, and the arts and social sciences on the other hand, is one of the most exciting and important in modern academic life, offering unrivalled potential for multi-disciplinary work, policymaking, and public life. Medical Humanities Sheffield is sponsoring a series of open lectures in this exciting field.

No need to book ahead. Open to the Public.

Information related to this message is available at

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How it became almost mandatory for dads to attend the birth

Times have changed and it is now rare that a man does not attend the birth of his baby, but how did it come to pass and could things ever change back?

BBC News article 14/03/13. by Lucy Wallis

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The clinic of the birth: obstetric ultrasound, medical innovation and the clinico-anatomical project

Department of History and Philosophy of Science University of Cambridge

*** The Ninth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine ***

Thursday 16 January 2014 at 4.30pm

The clinic of the birth: obstetric ultrasound, medical innovation and the clinico-anatomical project

Malcolm Nicolson (University of Glasgow)

Ultrasonic images of the fetus are now ubiquitous. Like many innovations in medical imaging, the origins of obstetric ultrasound are often located in medical physics and engineering rather than to clinical medicine. I will argue, by contrast, for the crucial role of clinical pathology in the invention of diagnostic ultrasound. Several authors, notably Foucault in The Birth of the Clinic, have described the impact on nineteenth-century medicine of systematic correlation between lesions revealed upon dissection and signs and symptoms observed while the patient was still alive. Laboratory medicine is widely presented as having eclipsed the clinico-anatomical project in the twentieth century. This lecture will show that clinical pathology continued to inspire innovation in medical imaging after 1950. It will also argue that ultrasonic scanning is more like traditional forms of physical examination than is usually assumed.

There will be tea before the lecture, at 4pm, and a drinks reception afterwards, at 6pm.

*** Workshop ***

In addition, at 11.30am the same day Professor Nicolson will lead a discussion of a precirculated paper on James Young Simpson, the practice of gynaecological examination, and the nineteenth-century medical gaze.

Historians of gynaecology and obstetrics enjoy relating tales of the eighteenth-century man-midwife fumbling blindly under bedclothes or petticoats. Such stories serve to mark a vivid contrast between an older, backward form of practice and a reformed gynaecology led by far-sighted men like James Young Simpson, Edinburgh Professor of Midwifery and pioneer of obstetric analgesia. It is assumed that Simpson, as a disinterested scientific clinician, would have had unrestricted access to the bodies of his patients. The removal of prudish hindrances signals how far gynaecology had emancipated itself from a benighted past. However, reading Simpson, it is evident that, in mid century, the practitioner’s ability to examine female patients remained constrained by social conventions. Thus, the extent to which Simpson’s practice represents a complete departure from older modes of gynaecological work has been exaggerated. By the 1850s, the medical gaze had gained only partial and conditional access to the female body.

Lecture and workshop are free and open to all.
More information:

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH.

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Regards socio-historiques sur la santé comme problème public

I am pleased to announce the following symposium:

Regards socio-historiques sur la santé comme problème public : don et transplantation d’organes, cancer, sida, dépendance au jeu et santé mentale [Historical and sociological perspectives on health as a public problem: organ donation, cancer, AIDS, gambling addiction and mental health].

This symposium will be held in French, on February 13th, 2014, at the University Institute of the History of Medicine and Public Health at Lausanne, Switzerland.

Programme and registration

For any queries, please contact:

Best wishes

Raphaël Hammer
University of Health Sciences (HESAV), Institute of Health Research, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Wester Switzerland (HES-SO)
1011 Lausanne

Raphaël HAMMER, Professeur HES-S2,  Av. de Beaumont 21, 1011 Lausanne
t : +41 21 316 81 19

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Christmas greetings

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone

Theotokos of Vladimir

from the Chair and Steering Group of De Partu

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New book: Menstruation and the female body in early modern England, by Sara Read


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9th annual Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproduction

The 9th annual Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproduction at Cambridge will be held on Friday Nov. 15th from 9.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. Registrations have unfortunately already closed, but the programme and Twitter coverage may be of interest.

Presentations this year range from oocyte preservation, to the emerging meanings of cells, to the role of motherhood. This year’s aim is to consider how reproduction is constructed and communicated within academic institutions and broader society.

Full programme list
Follow the dialogue on Twitter via the hashtag #Communicatingreproduction
Also see the IWR Facebook page


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BBC 4 series: Medieval lives: birth, marriage, death


Janette Allotey, Chair of De Partu, was interviewed by Helen Castor for the first programme in the series, which was broadcast on 9th October 2013. It will be available on BBC iPlayer to view or download until October 8th 2013.

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De Partu Anuual Lecture 2013

De Partu Anuual Lecture May 31st 2013: Professor Valerie Worth, University of Oxford.
“Who was present at the birth? Interpreting written and visual sources from early modern France.”

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Knit your own womb?

By Helen King (

Sue Tully womb

It was one of those moments that only happens when academics and practitioners are in the same room…

For about a year, I had been thinking about the history of visual representations of body parts, and had been introducing audiences in the UK and beyond to some of the knitting patterns available to make a womb. On, for example, you can find a pattern from the amazing M.K. Carroll which allows anyone with needles and some bright pink wool to make a ‘cuddly’ womb with pipe-cleaner fallopian tubes and ovaries. If you think I’m making this up, look at

M.K. Carroll took classes in anatomy and physiology which informed her work. But as she points out on the website, her knitted womb is ‘not completely anatomically accurate’. I was interested in two things here. First, the effect of knitting on making body parts look less terrifying and more ‘cuddly’, which is part of a wider movement in contemporary art towards knitting things that one would not normally associate with this medium; for example, cars ( Second, the choice of what to include in ‘a womb’. In M.K. Carroll’s womb, tubes and ovaries and cervix are all important, and the cervix needs to ‘look plump (“pouty”, if you will)’.

I mentioned this to the other members of the De Partu network, expecting the usual surprised response. Instead, they were not thrown in the slightest. ‘Oh yes’, they said, ‘we all know about knitted wombs. We have them, and we make them. They are very useful in parentcraft classes. Would you like us to show you our wombs?’

My jaw dropped. And once I saw the wombs, I was even more amazed and delighted. Firstly, because these wombs are not always brightly coloured – in fact, one of the 1960s patterns that was kindly supplied to me by Lynn Balmforth, the librarian of the National Childbirth Trust, makes it explicit that these should be made in neutral, non-scary, colours, to make the effect more ‘acceptable’. Nor are they supposed to be ‘lifelike’. And secondly, because these wombs don’t bother with the ovaries and tubes – irrelevant by this stage of the proceedings! – but focus on the size of the gravid uterus and on the role of the cervix. They are used to show how contractions work and how the cervix dilates. A ball, representing the head, is pushed through the cervix and a ribbon through the external os can be used to control this.

This photograph was sent to me by Sue Tully, who is a Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at Bournemouth University; it gives you the general idea, although this one contravenes the 1960s guidelines on colour schemes! If you have any images of knitted wombs or information on how they were used, I’d love to receive it.

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V M Whitworth shares her novel writing experiences



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