The conference was ably chaired by Professor Marguerite Dupree, of the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Glasgow, who introduced the speakers and fielded questions from the floor (as well as posing a few of her own).
The last paper of the morning session was presented by Sarah Bromage of the University of Stirling and Alison Scott, from Glasgow Life. They described the archives of the Royal Scottish National Hospital (RSNH), held by the University of Stirling. The RSNH was established in 1863 in Larbert to care for children with learning disabilities. As its name suggests, it took in patients from all over Scotland. One of the most interesting parts of the archive is the applications for admission, of which 3014 survive from 1865 to the 1940s. Most of the early applications include plentiful information on the applicant’s family’s circumstances as well as the child’s health, behavioural and educational abilities. Another unusual part of the collection consists of some letters written by the children themselves. More information on the archive can be found here and here.
After a short break for coffee (and industrial quantities of fine cake), the next speaker was Dr Jenny Cronin, who discussed convalescent institutions with particular emphasis on the Schaw Convalescent Home at Bearsden. The movement to establish convalescent homes in Scotland began in 1860, in part as a means of easing the problem known in modern terms as “bed blocking”. They expanded considerably – from around 4,000 admissions in 1871 to over 33,000 in 1934. Intriguingly, the Schaw home in Bearsden had a smoking room for men, but a basement work room for women!
The first talk after lunch was given by Ross McGregor, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) on William Macewen, a Glasgow Police Surgeon of the 1870s. As a police surgeon, Macewen was called out to a very wide range of cases, and he was a pioneer in a variety of surgical techniques, often going against established practices. He later went on to establish the Erskine Hospital. McGregor described cases ranging from high-profile murders to rotten fish, and described Macewen’s papers which are held by the RCPSG, the University of Glasgow Archives and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives. Macewen was clearly an interesting character – an article he wrote on a case of opium poisoning – a common occurrence – included a quotation of French poetry.
The last talk of the first afternoon session was given by Dr Lindsey Reid, on midwifery, and specifically the circumstances surrounding the 1915 Midwives (Scotland) Act. Before the 1915 Act, midwives in Scotland – commonly known as howdies, a term that seems to have arisen in Edinburgh – were entirely unregulated, and often lacking in training. Before then, many howdies didn’t recognise a thermometer when shown one! One possible consequence of the 1915 Act was the steep decline in home births – from 95% in 1900 to only a tiny percentage in modern times. After 1915, unqualified midwives were allowed to continue practising, but were supposed to be accompanied by doctors, although this was not always followed, particularly it seems in the Hebrides, where there was a particularly high rate of “emergency” births – perhaps because the howdies wanted to make sure they got paid!
Overall – a few very minor technical difficulties aside – this was an excellent conference, and I’d like to thank Kirsteen Mulhern and Robin Urquhart for all their hard work in putting on a great day. I would thoroughly recommend the Scottish Records Association and their conference to anyone interested in Scottish history. I may have even volunteered to speak at next year’s conference as well …