Belfast Corporation and the regulation of midwives 1911-1918


Dr Phil Gorey (University College Dublin)


Dr Ciaran McCabe (Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University College Dublin)


Municipal Gospel or necessity? Belfast Corporation and the regulation of midwives 1911-1918


UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland Seminar Series, 31 January 2019


In 1911, Belfast Corporation sought and was granted powers to establish a midwives roll for the County Borough. The Belfast Corporation Act, 1911, provided for the certification and enrolment of midwives practicing in the city of Belfast. It exercised supervision over midwives and their practice and prohibited, where possible, uncertified midwives from attending births in the city.

This initiative was timely. The city had witnessed a period of unprecedented growth which saw the population increase from 71,000 in 1841 to 380,000 in 1911. The Corporation was compelled to deal with the consequences of this exceptional growth and in the spirit of ‘municipal gospel’, which held that elected authorities were obliged to work for the social and moral well-being of its citizens, councillors, at the instigation of the local Health Association, in 1910, proceeded with important public health and sanitary regulations which included provisions for the control and regulation of midwives.

The Midwives Act, 1902, had not been extended to Ireland. Attempts to amend the legislation to include Ireland failed in 1906 and again in 1910, so Ireland was without a regulatory body similar to the British Central Midwives Board. This presentation examines the success of the scheme to train, register, and regulate the practice of midwives in Belfast until the Midwives (Ireland) Act was passed in 1918.

Phil Gorey

Dr Phil Gorey’s research interests include the advancement of male medical practitioners in midwifery in Ireland in the eighteenth century, the development of maternal welfare in Irish dispensaries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the early education of midwives and nurses in Ireland, the role of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland in the registration of Irish midwives 1891-1918, and puerperal fever. Phil is currently working on her monograph entitled Managing Midwives in Ireland. A History of the Regulation of Irish Midwives, 1615-1918. She has previously published on history of childhood opthalmia, midwifery in Dublin in the 18th century and puerperal fever.

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