The Royal College of Midwives joins midwives worldwide to celebrate International Day of the Midwife on 5 May each year.
This day was designated by the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) as a day for all midwives from all organisations affiliated to the ICM to express worldwide solidarity and take action to highlight the knowledge and skills of midwives, and the contribution midwives make to the health of their nations. Here in the UK, the RCM organises events for the support of Safer Motherhood and to promote the midwifery profession both in the UK and worldwide. The first International Day of the Midwife was launched in May 1991 with the theme ‘Towards safe birth for all by the year 2000’. The theme for International Day of the Midwife each year until 2015 is ‘The World Needs Midwives Now More Than Ever’.
The RCM’s connection with the International Confederation of Midwives extends back to 1931, when the College was still known as the Midwives Institute. It became affiliated to the International Confederation of Midwives Unions, and in 1934 organised an International Congress of Midwives in London, when the delegates were received by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, then Duchess of York. Twelve members of the Institute attended the eighth International Congress in Paris in 1938, and in 1954 the now Royal College of Midwives organised and financed the first World Congress of Midwives in London, providing the Secretariat of the International Confederation of Midwives for many years.
Being a Royal Diamond Jubilee year, it seems timely to look at the RCM’s association with Royalty as shown in the records of its President and General Secretary held in the RCM Archive. We have already mentioned that the then Duchess of York played her part in the 1934 International Congress: she was then invited to become Patron of the Institute in 1941, the year of the Institute’s very own Diamond Jubilee, and her wartime message carries resonance with many of today’s themes:
‘The profession of Midwifery has risen to the honourable position it now holds largely by its own efforts for self-improvement and by its persistent claim for State recognition with the importance of its work deserved. Today the Midwife is an integral part of the Nation’s Health Services. She is regarded everywhere as the friend and protector of the Mothers of Great Britain and as the guardian of the new generation. Since the outbreak of War she has also shown that in the hour of danger...she can forget herself in caring for her patient’s needs. I am particularly glad that the celebration of the Institute’s Diamond Jubilee should fall at this time when the call for women’s services is so insistent, as I hope it may focus attention upon a special branch of nursing that needs all the recruits that it can get.’
Two years later the Queen praised the midwives for their ‘gallant’ services and ‘wonderful work’ carried out under dangerous wartime conditions and reiterated her call for more midwives, hoping that ‘many women who wish for an interesting and useful career will join and share the life of service which is that of members of the profession.’ In 1947, the Institute (now College) received a letter from her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, following her marriage and thanking the College for its gift of ‘two George the Second silver tea caddies [which] are objects of great beauty’.
By this time, the Institute had changed its name to the ‘College of Midwifery’, and in 1947 applied for, and was granted, a royal title, becoming the Royal College of Midwives on 28 November 1947. President of the RCOG, Eardley Holland gave his support in a letter to RCM President, Edith Pye, at the beginning of the application process in November 1946, and told her that he was sure that it ‘would improve the social as well as the professional status’ of the midwives.
The professional status of the RCM has undoubtedly come a long way since its first association with the International Confederation of Midwives, but its mission has remained the same, namely, ‘to raise the efficiency and improve the status of midwives and to petition Parliament for their recognition’, a cause supported by the late Queen Mother.
By Penny Hutchins, Archivist
- RCM/E3/2/3/8: Correspondence of Florence Mitchell, RCM General Secretary, 1941–1957
- RCM/E3/1/2/1: Correspondence of Mabel Liddiard, RCM President, 1943–1952
- RCM/E3/1/1/10: Correspondence of Edith Pye, RCM President, 1947
- RCM/E3/2/4/1: Correspondence of Audrey Wood, RCM General Secretary, 1946–1958