Vested interests: the 1902 Midwives Act as a case study in professional identity




Stanley, Heather Michelle

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Some scholars, in examining the debate which led up to the Midwives Act of 1902, have portrayed the conflict as a struggle between the monolithic medical profession and midwives. However, this thesis demonstrates that the late nineteenth-century medical profession was still very much divided on the issue of midwifery. There were tensions between various branches and between elite members and general practitioners. Further, the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal all competed for the right to speak for the profession as a whole. In the course of the debate the medical profession caricatured the "mythical" untrained midwife while seeking to impress upon the public their own identity as skilled and caring practitioners. The 1902 Midwives Act, which reveals that Parliament, accepted some, but not all, of the medical profession's claims, signifies both the extent and the limits of the medical profession's influence.



midwives, legal status, midwifery, Great Britain