Formerly the General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, my interests are chiefly focussed around education and the history of midwifery. My research into the contribution of district midwives to the maternity services between 1948-1972 demonstrated the safety and value to society of the domiciliary midwifery service and culminated with the publication of Delivered at Home. I am also Canon Emeritus at Norwich Cathedral. My recent PhD study at the University of Manchester concerned childbirth and midwives in Elizabethan East Anglia, and included a comparison of birth outcomes between five villages and towns, with differing social and economic profiles. The practice and social histories of midwives in the study was also explored. Drawing on my experience, I am the resident genealogist for De Partu, dealing with all related enquiries.
My interest in the history of midwifery first began when I completed an MA in midwifery practice. For the research dissertation, I investigated vaginal assessment of fetal descent in labour using the ischial spines nomenclature. I could not find a midwife or obstetrician who knew who had originally proposed this scheme. This began my fascination with the history of midwifery and childbirth practices, and especially with birthing theories and discourses on the function of the pelvis during childbirth (the subject of my doctoral thesis).
One of the problems with midwifery/childbirth history is not knowing from the outset, precisely where the research will take us, the amount of time required to produce a scholarly piece of writing, and when to stop! This may lead to ‘frowns’ from the uninitiated… However, I was fortunate to form links with academics working in the same area, which provided me with much support and encouragement.
These personal experiences led me to think that we needed a history of childbirth network to provide us with help, support, and a sense of collegiality, as well as preventing individuals spending precious time exploring things that someone might already know about and be only too happy to share.
The naissance of De Partu seems to have occurred when the time was ripe as more scholars start to investigate this rich field, from a range of perspectives. Since De Partu began, perhaps the least expected development has been the number of genealogy and media enquiries we have received, which have coincided with the publication of a tranche of scholarly and popular historical publications on midwives, midwifery, childbirth and related topics.
Currently being revised…
Mavis is the co-ordinator of the De Partu collection of midwives’ biographies, some of which will be featured in the newsletter.
I am an Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. With Professor Rosemary Mander, I have just published an edited biography, James Young Simpson, Lad o Pairts (Scottish History Press, 2011).
My principal research interest is maternity care in Edinburgh before 1939, and I have recently contributed chapters not only to Lad o Pairts, but also to two forthcoming books: ‘Taking “advantage of the facilities and comforts … offered”: Women’s choice of hospital delivery in interwar Edinburgh’, in Growing expectations: western childbirth and medicine since the nineteenth century, Janet Greenlees and Linda Bryder (eds), Studies in the Social History of Medicine, Pickering and Chatto; and ‘Midwifery, 1800-1920?’, in Nursing and midwifery in Britain since 1700, Anne Borsay and Billie Hunter (eds), Palgrave Macmillan.
Now they are (almost) done, my next project is to combine material from a Wellcome fellowship examining maternity care in interwar Edinburgh with my PhD thesis in order to write a history of the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital (the old Simpson), 1844-1939.