Medical Women's Federation

Reference code(s): GB 0120 SA/MWF
Held at: Wellcome Library
Domain: archival
Title: Medical Women's Federation
Date(s) of contents: 1879-1988
Level of description: Collection
Extent and medium: 110 boxes, 3 oversize items & 5 transfer boxes


Name of creator(s):

Administrative/Biographical history:

Custodial history:

Immediate source of acquisition: The initial accession of material in this collection was received by the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre (now part of the Wellcome Library's unified Archives and Manuscripts department) as a permanent loan in August 1988, on the occasion of the move of the MWF into smaller premises. These archives had already been surveyed by the CMAC in 1986. In November 1994 a large further accession (459) was received, consisting of administrative material which had been stored in various locations in the offices of the Federation, and was transferred so that it could be more readily be made available to researchers.


Scope and content/abstract: The Medical Women's Federation itself was founded in 1917, following preliminary meetings in 1916, to represent the particular interests of women as doctors (and patients). Predecessor bodies had been in existence since 1880 in the form of the Association of Registered Medical Women in London, and similar provincial associations.
Just after the end of the Second World War the Federation made a deliberate and concerted attempt to preserve its own history and that of women doctors in general, and an Honorary Archivist was appointed. Efforts were made to acquire material relevant to this project, and the files of the Federation include personal accounts, photographs, ephemera, and articles relating to the subject of women in medicine, as well as correspondence and papers accumulated by the MWF in the course of its activities. The archive therefore remarkably rich in material relating to hospitals founded by women doctors for the treatment of their own sex and children, and on the activities of medical women during the two world wars, which can be found in Section C.
The material in Accession 459 includes minutes up to 1984, annual reports, a complete run of the journal of the MWF under its various names (because of its rarity this is held in the archive under archival conditions of access, but duplicate volumes have been placed in the Wellcome Institute Library), a considerable quantity of files on the multifarious activities of the MWF since 1919, in particular a substantial amount on career questions (including the medical education of women), files on relations with other bodies, material relating to the Medical Women's International Association, and the records of the Inter-Professional Working Party, a body set up in the late 1960s at the initiative of the MWF to agitate for the amelioration of various financial injustices affecting professional women.

System of arrangement: Much of this accession was in a fairly disorganised state, reflecting no doubt the many moves it had undergone. Although some files did still have old internal references on them, these were sporadic, inconsistent, and confusing and did not enable any reconstruction of former series of files as created by the secretariat of the MWF, especially as files dealing with matters which were of interest over a long span of years often had several references. Any former references have therefore been omitted from the list except in the case of the 'Alphanumeric series 1960s-1970s' and '"G" sequence 1970s-1980s' subject files in section H.
The material has been arranged as follows: the early 'Committee files' on a variety of topics from 1919 to the mid 1940s; general administrative questions and internal matters; relations with other bodies; careers and medical education (a central concern of the MWF over many decades); several series of files, late 1940s to mid 1980s on a wide variety of topics of interest to the Federation, for example questions of women's and children's health, birth control, etc; surveys and research; Medical Women's International Association; personal papers of women doctors; publications, ephemera, and cuttings.
Because of the addition of not only council and executive minutes which extended existing series, but of numerous minutes of standing committees, subcommittees and ad hoc committees, the previous references in section A have undergone some alteration, and a key is supplied. A little historical material received with the new accession and from the previous Honorary Archivist's executor has been added to Section C, and the small group of financial papers of the Association of Registered Medical Women, formerly listed as Section B, has been reassigned to Section C and listed with the other ARMW materials there.
The papers of Dr Alice Emilie Sanderson Clow (Section M.1) were originally given to the British Medical Association by the Medical Women's Federation in 1980. They were offered to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, as a more appropriate home, by the Archivist of the BMA in August 1996. They have been transferred with the approval of the MWF on condition that they are retained as part of the MWF archives.
In September 1997, following the publication of Lesley Hall's article 'Eighty Years of the Medical Women's Federation: the MWF archive in the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine' in Medical Woman, 16/2, Summer 1997, attention was drawn to historical items which were still in the safe in the MWF offices, including the first minute book of the Association of Registered Medical Women, founded in 1879. These were collected and have been incorporated into the list.
An asterisk indicates that the contents of a file are listed in greater detail in the Appendix. In the course of listing the contents of some of the files of articles, lectures etc in Section C some duplication of material was found and a few items out of logical place. A minor amount of rearrangement and amalgamation took place with the result that a few file references are now no longer in use.
A. Minutes, 1916-1984 [5 boxes, 5 oversize boxes] pp.17-18
B. Publications [8 boxes] pp.19-23
B.1 Annual Report, 1917-
B.2 Newsletter/Bulletin/Journal, 1919-
B.3 Editorial files, 1956-1973
B.4 General, 1914-1990s
B.5 Lists of members, 1919-1956
C. Historical files [21 boxes] pp.25-37
C.1-9 History
10-18 Section I: Medical Education
19-55 Section II: Hospitals founded by women
56-73 Section III: Women in Medicine
74-143 Section IV: Medical Societies
144-156 Section V: Medical women overseas
157-175 Section VI (1): World War I
176-226 Section VI (2): World War II
227-229 Archives
243- Historical memorabilia, etc received at a later date
D. Early ('Committee') files, 1919-1940s [5 boxes] pp.38-40
E. General internal and organisational matters, pp.41-42
1940s-1980s [41/2 boxes]
F. Relations with other bodies, 1920s-1980s [151/2 boxes] pp.43-47
F.1-2 Medical Bodies: General Medical Council
British Medical Association
3-7 Ministry of Health and other Government Departments
8 European Economic Community
9-15 Women's Organisations: Women's Group on Public Welfare
Women's National Commission
Women's National Cancer Campaign
16-23 Official Commissions and Committees
24-34 Miscellaneous other bodies
G. Careers and medical education, 1940s-1980s [14 boxes] pp.49-54
G.1-7 Medical education and qualification
8-39 Posts, pay and conditions of service, career
opportunities, etc
40-51 Postgraduate, vocational and refresher training
52 Career Committee
53 Careers/Liaison Officers
54-50 Miscellaneous matters
H. Subject Files, 1950s-1980s [11 boxes] pp.55-60
H.1-19 Numerical sequence 1950s-1960s
20-66 Alphanumeric series 1960s-1970s
67-72 'G' sequence 1970s-1980s
J. Surveys and research 1920s-1980s [6 boxes] pp. 61-63
J.1-22 Surveys and statistics concerning medical women's careers, 1928-1985
23-25 Miscellaneous surveys
J.23 Menopause
J.24 Family planning
J.25 The Old Woman
26 Research and Scientific Committee/Cancer of the Ovary Research Project
K. Medical Women's International Association, 1920s-1980s pp. 64-66
[6 boxes]
L. Inter-Professional Working Party, 1960s-1970s [3 boxes] pp. 67-68
M. Deposited personal papers, etc:
M.1 Papers of Dr Alice Emilie Sanderson Clow [1 box] pp. 69
N. Publications, ephemera, cuttings [3 boxes] p. 70
P. Local Associations, 1879-1989 p. 71
Appendices pp. 72-93
Index pp. 94-139


Language: English

Conditions governing access: The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Conditions governing reproduction: Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:


Related material: A scrapbook of the Medical Women's Federation is held in the Greater Manchester County Record Office (ref Q217). A detailed list of the contents (which date from 1910 to 1970) is held by the Wellcome Library's unified Archives and Manuscripts department and can be consulted on request. For details of records of local associations in other locations, see the introduction to Section P.


Note: Abbreviations:
ARMW - Association of Registered Medical Women
BMA - British Medical Association
EGA - Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital
GLRO - Greater London Record Office
IPWP - Interprofessional Working Party
LSM(W)- London School of Medicine (for Women)
MOH - Medical Officer of Health
MRCS - Member Royal College of Surgeons
MWF - Medical Women's Federation
MWIA - Medical Women's International Association
POW - Prisoner of War
RFH - Royal Free Hospital
UNRRA - United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration
VD - Venereal Disease
WAAF - Womens Auxiliary Air Force
WOTAG - Women's Taxation Group
Medical Women's Federation: Outline chronology
This is necessarily selective: the Annual Reports of the Federation (SA/MWF/B.1) give a fuller account year by year of its activities.
1879 Association of Medical Women (with 9 members) set up in London
1916 Existing local Associations of Registered Medical Women come together to form the Medical Women's Federation, to fight for matters of mutual interest (immediately better conditions for women doctors serving in the Forces)
1917 Articles of Association of the MWF drawn up and signed: Federation incoporated as a limited company, 13 Feb; offices opened
190 members
Special Committees set up on the State and Venereal Disease, and Maternity and Child Welfare. Also represented on a number of other bodies
1918 385 members
Report of the Standing Committee on the State and Venereal Disease
Protest against the LCC return to pre-war refusal to employ married women
1921 Appointment of a subcommittee on birth control
Affiliation of the Association of Medical Women in India
Standing Committee on Married Medical Women set up
1922 Vacant Posts Bureau established
Insurance Scheme Subcommittee set up
Food Campaign Committee on the value of foods appointed
1923 Food Campaign Committee reports and is dissolved
1924 Protests against the closing of St Mary's Medical School to Women
Birth control subcommittee dissolved
Committee on Lunacy Reform appointed
Small reference library set up
1925 Membership reaches 1016
Committee on Lunacy Reform submits evidence to Royal Commission on Lunacy and Mental Disorder
Committees set up to consider the question of Assaults on Young Persons and the Nursing Homes (Registration) Bill
Publication of 'Advice regarding Menstruation' leaflet authorised
1926 Standing Committee on Public Health set up to deal with issues concerning women doctors in the Public Health Service
Appointment of subcommittees on Aviation (to consider the ability of women to qualify for the Pilot's Certification) and the menopause.
First edition (10,000 copies) of leaflet 'Advice on Menstruation' sells out
1927 Formation of the Aberdeen and North of Scotland Local Association
New Standing Committee on Psychological Medicine and Subcommittee on Maternal and Child Welfare appointed
1928 Appointment of a Committee to deal with question of medical co-education in light of three London hospitals closing their doors to women students
1929 Standing Committee on National Health Insurance set up; also committees on Dysmenorrhoea and Promotion of Improved Women's Health in India
1930 1317 members
Special Committee on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity set up
1931 Medico-Political Committee set up
Protest against exclusion of women from postgraduate courses at London hospitals; many (though not all) revise this policy
Council passes resolution, sent to all medical schools, that instruction in birth control methods should be included in the ordinary gynaceological curriculum, and suggestion made to the Birth Control Investigation Committee that it should include a woman gynaecologist
Following representations by the MWF, the Governors of Epsom College agree that the benefits of this charity should be extended to medical woman and their families on the same terms as for medical men (except for their widowers)
1932 The Scottish Union of Medical Women dissolved and a permanent Standing Scottish Committee of the MWF formed
Presentation to the BMA for its centenary of a portrait of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Standing Committee on the Work of Medical Women in the Crown Colonies and Dominions set up
Membership reaches 1409
1933 Concern over German medical women affected by Nazi rule
1934 Committee on Lord Dawson's Contraceptive Bill appointed
Ad-hoc committee to prepare evidence on employment of women in the diplomatic and consular services set up
1936 Ad hoc committee on nursing appointed
1937 Ad hoc committees set up: on abortion to prepare evidence for the Interdepartmental (Birkett) Committee; to draw up a pamphlet on the hygiene of menstruation; to enquire into the effect of physical training on married women gymnasts
1938 Reports of ad hoc committees presented
Scheme for the formation of an Overseas Association to take the place of the Standing Committee on Colonial and Crown Colonies appointments
Resolution on the desirability of woman doctors examining women and children in cases of indecent or criminal assault
Council considers the contribution of medical women to National Defence
Celebration of 21st Anniversary of MWF
1939 Decision to have a Presidential badge made
1940 Maternal Mortality Committee dissolved
Offices at Clifford St, London W1 became unusable through enemy action: temporary office at Bromley, Kent
Committee on Medical Women and War Services set up
Formation of an American Women's Hospital Fund for the relief of civilians in bombed areas, administered through the Executive of the MWF
1941 Agreed that medical women of foreign nationality currently in Britain should be eligible to join the MWF once on the Medical Register
Discussion of 'State Medical Service' at the AGM
1942 Donations from the Federation of Medical Women of Canada for relief of air-raid victims
1943 Memorandum on 'The Medical Education of Women' sent to the Inter-Departmental Committee on Medical Schools (Goodenough Committee)
Appointment of Committees on the Medical Education of Women and on War-time Day Nurseries
1944 Subcommittees appointed to prepare memoranda for Royal Commissions on Equal Pay and the Birth Rate
1945 Appointment of Standing Committee on Social Medicine
Committees set up to consider New Syllabus for the Training of Nurses and to administer a small fund of subscriptions for the relief of medical women on the continent
Concern of Council to improve cooperation with other women's organisations
1946 Membership reaches 2147
1947 Committees appointed to enquire into pain in childbirth and aspects of menstrual hygiene and to consider the Report of the Working Party on the Recruitment and Training of Nurses
Issue of memorandum 'Factors Influencing the Future Provision of Day Nurseries'
1948 Subcommittee of School Medical Officers submits to Council report on 'Medical Examination of Grammar and High School Girls'; subcommittee appointed to consider
Office opens in new premises in Tavistock House North
1949 Committee on the Place of Family Planning in the NHS appointed
1950 Ad hoc committee on Part-time Work for Medical Women set up
1951 Memorandum on Family Planning in the NHS disseminated
1952 Congress in London to commemorate 35th Anniversary of MWF, including Christine Murrell Memorial Lecture
New committees: Standing Committee on General Medical Services; Committee on Personal Hygiene; Ad hoc Committee on Medical Manpower; Committee on Medical Education for Women
1953 Annual conference decides to present each retiring President with a small replica of the President's Badge and to commission an illuminated scroll with the names of all Presidents for the Federation HQ
Committee on Medical Woman Power created on the dissolution of the Standing Committee on the Work of Married Medical Women and the Committee on Part-time Work
1954 Trust Deed prepared to govern the Christine Murrell Memorial Fellowship Fund and Standing Committee of the Fund set up
Committee on Taxation set up
Steering Committees set up to dissect Report of the Proceedings of the World Conference on Medical Education (London 1953), and to guide Dr K Adams in her new investigation of the menopause
Ad hoc committee appointed to consider evidence for the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution
1955 Federation Benevolent Fund Trust deed signed
Subcommittee appointed to draw up evidence for the Government Committee concerning entries to Medical School
1956 Ad hoc committee on Maternity Services set up
1957 General review of Standing Committees took place; General Medical Services, Personal Hygiene, Public Health and Social Medicine were dissolved
Ad hoc committee on Attempted Suicide set up
1958 First Catherine Chisholm Memorial Lecture
Ad hoc committee set up to draft new leaflet on the MWF and what it does
Standing Committee on Psychological Medicine disbanded
1959 Retirement of Mabel Rew after 38 years as Secretary
Ad hoc committee on Maternity Services dissolved
1960 Report submitted to Medical Services Review Committee
Concern expressed about persistence of ritual female circumcision in various African countries
1961 Working Party set up to discuss future of the Federation
1962 Working Party reports: steps taken to improve finances of MWF and new leaflet produced
Advisory Service organised by Dr Jean Lawrie set up to deal with married women doctors seeking part-time work or returning to practice after a break
Public Health Committee re-formed to consider implications of local government reorganisation
1963 Meeting of Hon. Secretaries of Local Associations to discuss projected survey of women doctors by the MWF and BMA
Scientific Subcommittee set up: research project on cancer of the ovary planned with a view to making earlier diagnosis, and therefore treatment, possible
MWF Council resolution to the Women's Group on Public Welfare leads to the setting up of the Women's National Cancer Control Campaign
1964 Subcommittee prepares evidence for the Fraser Working Party on General Practice
Working Party of professional women (IPWP) convened: taxation of women its first concern
MWF becomes a member of the Association for the Study of Medical Education
1965 Subcommittees prepare evidence for the General Medical Council Education sub-committee, the Royal Commission on Medical Education, and the Ministry of Health Committee on Infant Welfare Clinics
Careers Committee, concerned with postgraduate education and higher qualifications, established
Past Presidents' Committee discusses the functions and organisation of the Federation
London Association gives a Federation Dinner to commemorate centenary of Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson's qualification
Retirement of Miss I McCartan as Secretary
1966 BMA/MWF Survey of Medical Womanpower appears and arouses much interest
Recruitment drive
Committees set up to discuss Abortion Law Reform, and organise Golden Jubilee
Scottish Local Associations present a gilt and enamel badge for the Hon Secretary
1967 Golden Jubilee Celebrations in London and Manchester, including an exhibition
Kate Harrower Memorial Fund Committee established
Committee to discuss an MWF Charitable Trust set up
Membership reaches 2683
1968 First Kate Harrower Lecture
1969 Setting up of a network of Liaison Officers to undertake a re-education and re-employment project at local levels
MWF invited by the Prime Minister to appoint a representative to the new Women's National Commission
Anxiety about changes in the medical administration of the Family Planning Association and its implications for family planning doctors, most of whom are women
Aid from MWF to Czech woman doctor and medical student
Southern Association renamed Wessex Association
1970 MWF recognised by the Charity Commissioners as eligible for charitable status
New Standing Committee appointed to oversee the study of the epidemiology of cancer of the ovary
Holman Committee meets to produce memoranda concerning children's issues (adoption, single-parent families and pre-school children)
MWF invited by BMA to keep a watching brief on women doctors' interests in the EEC by sitting on its Committee on the EEC
1971 25 local associations in existence
Abortion Committee prepares evidence for the Lane Committee on the Working of the 1967 Act
Cancer of the Ovary Project under way with funding from the Marie Curie Research Trust Fund
1972 Concern expressed about implications of impending NHS reorganisation for women doctors' careers
Retainer Scheme for doctors unable to do more than 2 sessions a week launched, enabling women to remain professionally active by subsidising subscriptions to the GMC and Medical Protection Society
Discussion of widowers' pensions within the NHS
Working Party to study the Functions and Functioning of the MWF set up
Reorganisation of BMA alters its relationship to MWF
1973 Council accepts Working Party's recommendation to discontinue publication of Journal and proposed a three-tier membership scheme
1974 Executive commissions a report from a firm undertaking analysis of organisations
Concern that NHS reorganisation has considerable implications in particular for women doctors working in the clinical side of public health
Pilot study on cancer of the ovary completed
1975 Number of central meetings reduced as a cost-cutting exercise
DHSS conference on Women Doctors at Sunningdale
1976 Doreen Magill retires as Secretary
Working Parties: to prepare evidence for the Royal Commission on the NHS; on the new contracts proposed by the CCHMS; to give evidence to the Court Committee on Child Health Services
1977 Diamond Jubilee
Ad hoc Working Party to consider the New Medical Bill
1978 MWF points out to the Health Education Council that now woman doctor serves on it by right
Refresher Course organised at Nottingham
2 recruitment campaigns launched
Valerie Moss resigns as Secretary
Membership 2870
1979 Women medical students admitted to membership following a special recruiting drive
Redefinition of the duties of careers advisers
Refresher Course held at University College London
Working Party to discuss the postgraduate career structure in hospital specialities set up
1980 Meetings with representatives of Royal Colleges re postgraduate training
Refresher course run at Charing Cross Hospital Postgraduate Medical Centre
Membership reaches 3226
1981 Working Party on Maternity Leave set up
Public Relations Adviser appointed
1982 HRH the Duchess of Gloucester becomes Patron
Working Party on medical students set up
Birmingham Association sets up Working Party on problems associated with rape
London Association sets up Working Party on ethical issues posed by recent advances in reproductive medicine
Recommendations of the Working Party on Maternity Leave disseminated
Refresher course held at University of Exeter Postgraduate Medical School
1983 Careers Advisers' Study Day held
Meeting with Royal College of Physicians over part-time training
Joint Working Party with British Paediatric Association established
Working Party set up on the Overseas Association
Disability Income Scheme for members launched
1984 Planning Document passed by Council, aimed at simplifying and streamlining procedures and updating style of meetings; Working Party on Office Staffing and Records reports as a result of which a computer purchased
Working Parties: to consider GMC Consultation Paper Proposals for Basic Specialist Training, and on the proposed amendments to the constitution and procedure of various GMC Committees
Working Party on ethical issues in reproductive medicine considers the Warnock Report and makes recommendations for submission to the Department of Health
Hon Secretary part of delegation at the Plenary Assembly of the Standing Committee of Doctors of the European Community in Paris
1985 Symposium on Rape and Sexual Assault
Disquiet in MWF about attempts to restrict 1967 Abortion Act
Requests BMA to review disciplinary procedures for doctors
Persistent concern over sexual discrimination at interviews
New Medical Ethics Committee set up
Forward Planning Committee appointed
70th Anniversary Working Party set up
1986 2 Special Meetings held to consider DHSS consultative document on Hospital Medical Staffing
A Working Party considered consultative documents on primary health Care
Careers Committee sets up working party to consider aspects of child health care
Working Party set up on parental leave and maternity allowances
1987 70th Anniversary: theme Women, Health and Work
MWF leaflet revised and circulated
1988 Working Party on the future of the Federation produces interim discussion document circulated for response
Federation Study Day at Nottingham University on Women in the Health Service - as workers and consumers
1989 Move to smaller offices in Tavistock House North
Changes in Grant Fund enable dispersal of bursaries to mature women medical students and to support electives for undergraduate students
Preparation put in hand of policy document keeping on file current views and policies of the Federation
Working Party appointed on child care facilities and tax relief for parents
1990 Major changes to the NHS: MWF writes to Department of Health expressing anxiety about a number of issues: new general practice contract, NHS changes, excessive working hours of junior hospital doctors and their contracts in trust hospitals
Consideration of Federation's policy decisions and whether they should be updated
Symposium on Women as Patients
Constitutional change, abolishing offices of immediate past-president and president-elect, substituting vice presidents to serve for two years before becoming President
1991 Retirement of Valerie Lenton as Secretary
Department of Health Report on Women Doctors and their Careers welcomed and discussed
1992 First Dame Hilda Rose Lecture
75th Anniversary symposium on 'Medical Women's Choices for the Future'
Birmingham Association produces detailed policy document on rape and sexual abuse
Redesign of MWF information and application leaflet and publicity material
Desk-top publishing enables cheaper production of Medical Woman and issue of a number of leaflets
Institution of May and November conferences
1993 Publication of survey of careers of women doctors of overseas origin
Inception of an annual Christine Murrell Memorial Essay Prize
Discussion paper Towards a 'woman-friendly' GP contract produced and publication of MWF priority action points for women doctors in general practice
1994 Series of development seminars introduced
Careers symposium held
Council supports ban on tobacco advertising, resists moves to restrict provision of sex education in schools
First ever House of Commons reception for the MWF
Detailed memberships database compiled
1995 The battles of the early years largely won but still many to be fought
Careers Committee stood down: local mentoring and networks to be encouraged with a central coordinator
6 personal and professional training days organised

Date(s) of descriptions: Listed LAH, Oct 1988, Dec 1996


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