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Scottish midwives celebrated in new records exhibition

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The work of midwives is being 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.

“This exhibition is a tremendous opportunity for people to see how the role of the midwife has developed over the last 100 years”

Gillian Smith

Although many of these midwives could produce a certificate of training, many others were so-called “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.

Tim Ellis, keeper of the records of Scotland and registrar general, said: “We’re delighted to mark an important centenary in the development of healthcare in Scotland by exploring the story of midwives in Scotland leading up to and following the beginning of compulsory registration in 1916.”

National Records of Scotland

First CMBS Examination Paper 1916

Dr Gillian Smith, director of the Royal College of Midwives in 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.”

The free exhibition is at National Records of Scotland, General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY. It runs from 12 October until 20 November, Monday to Friday, 9am-4.30pm

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