Happy 156th birthday, Dame Rosalind

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Rosalind Paget portrait, 1903. Wellcome Images no. L0010428

Rosalind Paget portrait, 1903. Wellcome Images no. L0010428

Today’s Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Life of the Day commemorates Dame Rosalind Paget, born on 4th January 1855, died 19th August 1948, nurse and midwife.

Rosalind Paget was one of the numerous women involved in the reform of nursing and midwifery, and the improvement in the status of nurses and midwives, who were active and influential in the later nineteenth century but whose achievements have been occluded by the lengthy shadow of Florence Nightingale. Paget was indeed inspired by Nightingale, and her own career owed much to Nightingale’s establishment of nursing as a reputable profession for middle-class women, but she made significant contributions in her own right. She trained as a nurse at the Westminster Hospital under its formidable matron Eva Luckes (herself another important but overlooked pioneer in the field), and subsequently trained as a midwife, serving some time in that capacity at the London Hospital.

Eva C. E. Luckes portrait. Wellcome Images no. L0060862

Eva C. E. Luckes portrait. Wellcome Images no. L0060862

However, Paget, as might be expected from a scion of families (the Pagets and the Rathbones) renowned in the annals of medical science and health reform, was particularly interested in campaigning for the improvement of midwifery: to raise its status, to instil a greater sense of professionalism and public service into midwives, and also to improve the conditions under which women gave birth. To this end she played an active role in the Midwives’ Institute and its campaigns for midwife registration and training, and founded (and edited for many decades) its journal, Nursing Notes (subsequently The Midwives Chronicle).

She also took an active part in the establishment of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nursing (the central body for district nursing) and that of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. She saw the success of her particular areas of activism as integrally connected to the wider struggle for women’s rights and was a strong supporter of the suffrage movement.

While Paget’s papers do not survive with the copiousness of Nightingale’s, the Wellcome Library does hold a small collection of her personal papers (GC/236), including business records of Nursing Notes and material relating to the Trust Fund she established to support midwives and their profession (these were all previously held in the office of Nursing Notes/Midwives). There is also material among the records of the Queen’s Nursing Institute (SA/QNI/Z.1) and her involvement in setting up the Society of Trained Masseuses, which became the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (SA/CSP), is reflected in its records. There is also a file of 1933 correspondence with Lady Rhys Williams among the latter’s papers in the archives of the National Birthday Trust Fund (SA/NBT/U.7/1).

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall, FRHistS, PhD, DipAA, has been an archivist at the Wellcome since 1979. She has published extensively on the history of sexuality and gender in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, given many talks and conference presentations, and featured on radio and television. Further details can be found at her website.

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