York Minster was built between 1220 and 1472 and is one of the great Gothic cathedrals of England and Europe. In the course of the last two centuries, it has suffered three catastrophic fires with the second, in 1840, destroying the roof of the nave.
The nave roof is decorated with a series of eight bosses that depict the life of the Virgin Mary, a figure of great devotion in Catholic Christendom during the medieval period. The second of the bosses depicts the nativity, the birth of Christ in a stable in Bethlehem. The original boss showed a magnificent ox and ass, a shepherd, angels, the manger and, at the centre, the seated figure of the Virgin with her eyes raised to heaven, breastfeeding the infant Jesus.
In 1834, a local artist, John Browne, made detailed sketches of the nave bosses during maintenance work in the Minster. These sketches were the primary source for the huge restoration that took place following the 1840 fire. All the bosses were restored exactly as Browne had depicted them, except for the nativity boss. Apparently, in response to Victorian preferences for extreme modesty in social settings and church adornments, the restored boss depicted the Virgin bottle-feeding her baby, rather than breastfeeding!
Kindly contributed by Professor Mary Nolan, who is also an official York Minster guide.
Midwife Booth, a Salford midwife, attended over 4,225 cases (1864-1879).Ellen Booth practised in the environs of Salford during the nineteenth century. Data provided in this register suggests that she attended over 4,225 births between 1864 and July 1879. From the figures listed in the front of the book, her birth attendances were lowest in the first few years of practice, which happened to coincide with the latter years of the Lancashire Cotton Famine (1861-65). The surviving casebook lists births from 1873 until July 1879, and shows a year-on-year increase in midwifery activity.
The format of the individual birth records evolved slightly over time, but contained details of the mother’s name and address, the day and month of the year, and the sex of the child (or children), and it was noted if it was the mother’s first baby. The numbers of births for each completed year were totalled, and interestingly, at the back of the book, she also kept notes of some of the fees charged and any amounts that remained outstanding. Although there is a slight inconsistency in the style of the records towards the end, births were predominantly described as ‘natural’, and there are relatively few cases in which medical attendance was summoned.
The medical cases begin to appear towards the end of the register; in one case a Dr Winterbottom was called to perform an ‘instrumental’ birth, two more cases are described as ‘natural instrumental’, and in 1879 there was an instrumental birth of a stillborn infant boy. A significant number of infants were born ‘face to pubis’ and Mrs Booth encountered several breech births (one footling), plus face presentations and sets of twins, which were all born without apparent difficulty . Complications noted included several retained placentae, an ‘emerage’ (haemorrhage) before birth, which resulted in a natural birth, and one ‘emerage’ after birth, with no mention of her calling for medical assistance. There were also references made to miscarriages as well as stillbirths.
Several babies were described as malformed, and prematurity was noted; one premature baby was recorded as living for 20 hours (incidentally, none of the babies appear to have been weighed at this time). Towards the end of the register, a maternal death is documented which occurred at the onset of labour, apparently due to ‘rupture of the heart’.
These archives are from the Craig Brisbane Collection, and were brought to the attention of De Partu via Manchester Museum. Group member Dr Frances Badger has already completed a study of a similar birth register which contains details of over 5000 births between 1847 and 1875, kept by a midwife called Mary Eaves of Spon End, Coventry. The archives have now been transferred to her for a closer examination and investigation.
Read, Sara (2015) Maids, wives, widows: exploring early modern women’s lives 1540-1740
Barnsley: Pen & Sword
“A lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England from 1540-1740” Reviewed by Dr Julia Allison
Available directly from the author via her website sararead.co.uk for £5.00 + p&p
‘I desire that all midwives may gain a good repute, and have a happy successe in all their undertakings: and that their knowledge, charity, and patience, with tender compassion, may manifest their worths among their women, and give their women just cause to love, honour, and to esteem them.’
Since the creation of the modern prison system in the mid-nineteenth century, women have been imprisoned separately from their male criminal counterparts. While some historical attention has been afforded to the running of female-only prisons and how this differed from the regimes imposed in male prisons, I am seeking to question if gender distinctions impacted upon the provision of medical care within female prisons. I work as a Research Fellow on the ‘Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland’ project, which is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award. Please see our website Exploring the History of Prisoner Health for more information.
A major part of my research focuses upon maternity care and childbirth provisions and practices in women’s prisons between the mid-nineteenth century and the present. The research examines the conditions in which pregnant women were incarcerated. It draws upon evidence showing that the medical examination of women upon entry into the prison was often very brief and perfunctory. In addition, it shows that, until they were at a very advanced stage of pregnancy, women were often subject to the normal prison routine, including being locked in solitary confinement for long periods. This was liable to cause psychological stress exacerbated by the limited availability of emergency attention. Furthermore, it examines the extent to which there were specialised maternity facilities in prison hospitals as well as specially trained staff on hand to offer medical assistance to pregnant women. Within this, it questions if there were provisions in place for midwifery visits and contact with health visitors, particularly after the turn of the twentieth century.
Something I would very much like to do is establish contact with people, particularly midwives, who have experience of, or a research interest in, maternity and childbirth in English or Irish women’s prisons. Whether people have years of experience or only a small amount of experience, any information or experiences that people would like to share would be greatly appreciated. The kind of things I would be particularly interested in include: the treatment of pregnant inmates, including provisions for them to attend antenatal classes and if, and how, things such as their diet and exercise were tailored, or not, to their pregnancy. Under what conditions are pregnant women incarcerated and at what stage in their pregnancy would they be moved to hospital? In addition, I would be interested in any information regarding the conditions and care offered to women and their infants in Mother Baby Units in prisons.
Please do get in touch if you would like further information about the project or the research. In the meantime, I would very much like to hear from anyone who has an interest in maternity and midwifery care in prisons. You can contact me at email@example.com or through De Partu.
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from, and hopefully meeting, some of you soon!
It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Dr Jean Donnison on January 27th, after a long period of declining health during which she bravely continued to work and publish. Jean will be known to many members for the significant contributions that she made to midwifery history, in particular her classic work Midwives and medical men: a history of the struggle for the control of childbirth, first published in 1977, which is still highly cited. Jean wrote a small feature for De Partu, The office of midwife – some historical background.
Readers are invited to add their own tributes to Jean via the comments function. They are also invited to make a donation in her memory to Maternity Worldwide via JustGiving. Maternity Worldwide is a charity saving lives in childbirth by training midwives, providing community maternal health promotion and improving access to health.