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Scottish Midwives celebrated in new exhibition at National Records of Scotland

Published: 12 Oct 2015 00:01

The work of midwives in Scotland is celebrated in a special exhibition that draws on previously unseen treasures from Scotland's national archives. The exhibition celebrates the centenary of the Midwives Act of 1915, which led to the compulsory registration of midwives and established new standards of midwifery practice.

On display for the first time is the first roll of midwives, started in 1916, which charts the change in professional standards. Although many of these midwives could produce a certificate of training, many others were 'howdies', traditional midwives who usually lacked formal qualifications. Among other documents the exhibition features an extremely rare register of the more than 2,000 babies delivered by Margaret Bethune, a Fife howdie who practised from 1853 until 1887.

The Midwives Act was passed in 1915 as a response to the wartime crisis in medical provision, and also as a result of long-standing pressures to regulate midwifery across Scotland. The role of the Central Midwives Board for Scotland in examining midwives is shown not only by the Roll of Midwives but also an examination paper for the first candidates in 1916, and other documents.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said:

"This exhibition celebrates the amazing contribution by midwives to the people of Scotland, and the start of the modern system of registration a century ago."

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland and Registrar General, said:

"We're delighted to mark an important centenary in the development of health care in Scotland by exploring the story of midwives in Scotland leading up to and following the beginning of compulsory registration in 1916, told through fascinating documents held by National Records of Scotland. We have been delighted to work in partnership with the Royal College of Midwives in celebrating the story of midwives in Scotland."

Dr Gillian Smith MBE, Director, The Royal College of Midwives Scotland, said:

"This exhibition is a tremendous opportunity for people to see how the role of the midwife has developed over the last 100 years and we are grateful that National Records of Scotland has decided to do this, and how appropriate in this wonderful building which holds all the birth records for our nation."

Notes to editors

The free exhibition at National Records of Scotland, General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY, runs from 12 October until 20 November, Monday – Friday, 9.00 – 4.30.

National Records of Scotland

National Records of Scotland is a Non-Ministerial Department of the Scottish Government. It holds and gives access to the nation's archives, oversees the registration of births, marriages and deaths, produces statistics on Scotland's population and conducts the Scottish Census. It is a centre of expertise on data handling, record keeping and archives.