Uncovering our Medical Instruments- Lucy Baldwin and Maternity Health

Childbirth has always been considered a miraculous event. Bringing a new life safely into this world is always a momentous occasion and victory. The health of both mother and child is of utmost importance to those involved in maternity health, and the practice as we know it today is the safest it has ever been in history.

However, there was a time when childbirth was considered a death sentence for the expectant mother [1], and maternity healthcare was based on class, on where the mother ranked in the public hierarchy. Not only was the likelihood of the mother dying during childbirth much higher than it is today, the life expectancy of the child was much shorter, although this varied depending on where the child was brought up. Yes, the process of childbirth has changed tremendously in the past 200 years and this change has been brought about by those fighting for better maternity healthcare.

One man that vastly improved the survival rate of mothers was Ignaz Semmelweis, an unsung hero of antisepsis. Working as an obstetrician at the Vienna General Hospital in 1846, Semmelweis noticed a difference in mortality rates between the two maternity clinics there. Where the clinic run by midwives had a mortality rate of around 4%, 10% of mothers died after giving birth in the clinic run by teaching staff of the University of Vienna [2]. These mothers were dying of a condition known as “childbed fever”.

Semmelweis took it upon himself to solve this mystery. The difference between clinics, he discovered, was in hygiene- the medical students would attend their patients straight after performing autopsies and would not have washed their hands or clothes efficiently in between sessions. This meant that the wounds and reproductive tracts of the recovering mothers were being contaminated, resulting in childbed fever and ultimately death.  The concept of contamination was not yet understood at this time in history, thus explaining Semmelweis’ difficulty in identifying the root of the problem.

When Semmelweis discovered this, he put in place the practice of handwashing with chlorinated lime in both clinics in 1847. Obstetricians were to wash their hands before and after examining patients in the first clinic, as well as the midwives in the second clinic. With this change in hygiene, the mortality rate of the first clinic dropped to around 1% within two months. However, Semmelweis was not recognised for his astounding work due to his unpopularity in the research field. The lack of belief from his contemporaries drove him insane, which resulted in his admittance to a mental institution in 1867. Semmelweis sadly died of blood poisoning, from the contamination of a wound caused by the institution staff [3]. It has only been after his death that his work has been recognised and praised.  His work paved the way for Lister’s contribution to antiseptic practices in medicine.

Another name often associated with maternity healthcare is Lucy Baldwin. Lucy Baldwin, Countess Baldwin of Bewdley, was the wife of Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1923-1924, 1924-1929, and 1935-1937. Although some may remember Countess Baldwin as a Prime Minister’s wife, Baldwin was an active writer and campaigner for equal maternity health care for all women. Having six children of her own, Baldwin was all too aware of the importance of maternal care during and after childbirth.

In the early 1900s, the rate of maternal deaths was incredibly high and little was being done to reverse the statistics [4]. Baldwin supported the work of the National Birthday Trust Fund to improve the care of pregnant women, and had an important role in obtaining equal access to anaesthesia for all mothers regardless of their financial income. Her great efforts lead to the introduction of self-administered anaesthetic machines into many hospitals across the country [5]. She had close ties with maternity health in Glasgow, having opened a New Infant Health Visitors Association centre in Bridgeton, and paved the way for the employment of the first anaesthetists at the Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital in 1930 [6]. Named after her in her honour, a Lucy Baldwin Gas-Oxygen Analgesia Apparatus can be found with the College’s museum collection, [Fig 1].

2003.74_Lucy Baldwin apparatus 4

The apparatus would include a face mask, which was connected to the machine through a tube. The midwife could then manipulate the dial to alter the percentage of oxygen within the gaseous mixture. The machine would be mounted onto 4 wheels for easy movement between patient beds.

Although Baldwin was not medically trained herself, she used her position and the resources available to her to fight for equal rights in healthcare.

For more information on the Lucy Baldwin Gas-Oxygen Analgesia Apparatus, feel free to contact us at: library@rcpsg.ac.uk



  1. Cellania, M., 2013. The Historical Horror of Childbirth. Mental Floss. [online] Available at: http://mentalfloss.com/article/50513/historical-horror-childbirth
  2. Semmelweis, I., 1861. Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.
  3. Carter, K.C., 1994. Childbed Fever: A Scientific Biography Of Ignaz Semmelweis. Transaction Publishers: New Jersey.
  4. Schafer, E., 1998. Schafer on Williams, ‘Women and Childbirth in the Twentieth Century: A History of the National Birthday Trust Fund 1928-93’. Humanities and Social Sciences Online. [online] Available at: < https://networks.h-net.org/node/24029/reviews/29853/schafer-williams-women-and-childbirth-twentieth-century-history>
  5. Blakeway, D., 2011. The Last Dance : 1936 The Year Our Lives Changed. Hodder Paperbacks: London.
  6. Dow, D.A., 1984. The Rottenrow: The History of the Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital 1834-1984. The Parthenon Press: Lancashire.

Old and new surgical tools

Our Digitisation Project Intern expands on the previous post about Dr Harry Lillie’s medical bag.

The recent donation of a medical bag belonging to Dr Harry R.Lillie, a medical officer aboard whaling ships during World War Two, revealed some interesting stories. It also highlighted fascinating insights in the development of basic surgical instruments.


Dr Lillie’s surgical kit

Within the bag, one item drew much attention- a set of surgical tools (above). These tools drew attention not because of their scarcity, or obscurity, but because of their profound similarities to modern tools used today.


1939 or 2016?

A set of modern dissection tools was located and compared with the surgical tools found in Lillie’s surgical case. The designs of the tools are very similar, as are their materials. Modern dissection tools are made of stainless steel, as are Lillie’s. Most surgical instrument makers adopted stainless steel since its popularity grew in the 1930s. Even the canvas bags are remarkably similar.


2016 or 1939?

Apart from some signs of wear and tear, it is hard to believe these two surgical kits have over 75 years between them.


Foundations of the College Library

On 29th October 1732, a fire broke out in a house in Glasgow, next door to the home of one John Colquhoun, Clerk of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. The fire spread quickly to Colquhoun’s house and many of Colquhoun’s possessions were burnt to a crisp. Also in Colquhoun’s possession at this time, and thus sadly lost to the fire, was the Faculty’s second minute book, covering the period 1688 to 1732. This leaves us today with a frustrating gap in the early records of the Faculty.

The lack of reliable records for the years between 1688 and 1733 makes it especially difficult to piece together the early history of the Faculty Library. The Library was founded in 1698, shortly after the first Faculty Hall was erected near the Trongate. We know, largely thanks to the efforts of the 19th century librarian Alexander Duncan, that the nucleus of the library was formed by donations from Faculty members and their well-to-do patients and friends. In Duncan’s book, Memorials of the Faculty (1896), he transcribes a manuscript listing “the names of such worthie persons as have gifted books to the Chierurgions Librarie in Glasgow”. Although Duncan notes that “many of [the books] are still on the shelves,” he does not provide a list of their titles, so it is difficult to know what the size and scope of the Library was like in its early years.

This is where our ongoing ESTC matching project comes in. As part of our work to match our current holdings to the records on the English Short Title Catalogue, library staff and volunteers have been closely scrutinising many of the pre-1800 titles in our collections. In the last month we have started looking at books from the Lister Room, and have rediscovered some important inscriptions indicating early donations to and purchases by the Faculty Library.


The title page of Robert Bayfield’s “Exercitationes anatomicæ in varias regiones humani corporis”, with the autograph of Dr Peter Patoun.

In one diminutive volume, containing the first and second editions of Robert Bayfield’s Exercitationes anatomicae in varias regiones humani corporis (ESTC R31574 and R23670, respectively), we find an “Ex Libris” inscription dated 1687, belonging to Dr Peter Patoun. Dr Patoun (sometimes spelled “Patoune” or “Paton”) was a Glaswegian physician who graduated with an M.D. from Leiden in 1691 and became, according to Duncan, “one of the leading physicians in Glasgow”. He was Praeses (i.e. President) of the Faculty between 1709 and 1710, and is known to have donated a number of books to both the Faculty Library and the Library of the University of Glasgow. Although this is the first of his books we have identified here, a list of his donations to the university appears in volume 3 of Munimenta Alme Universitatis Glasguensis (1854, p.440).

Not all the donations to the library were from Faculty members. Our copy of the 7th edition of Philip Barrough’s The method of physick (ESTC S101230) features this fairly detailed inscription: “This book is gifted by the Lady Barrowfield Elder to the Chyrs of Glasgow – the Library, by the influence of Mr Henry Marshall … Bibliothecarius, Nov. 26 1705”. Both Lady Barrowfield and Mr Henry Marshall appear in the list of “worthie persons” to have donated books to the library, the latter listed as “Mr. Henrie Marshall, Chyrurgeon Apothecar”. According to the list, Marshall also persuaded the Earl of Wigton to donate some books, although we have yet to identify these.

These donations formed the nucleus of the library, and eventually the Faculty began buying books to further expand the collection. On the front flyleaf of Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis pars tertia (ESTC R8391), we find this inscription, “Ex Libris Facultatis Chirurgorum Glasguensium, Londin: Empt. 1707”, marking out the 3rd volume of Robert Morison’s herbal as one of the earliest purchases for the Faculty Library. We’ve only just started matching Lister Room items to ESTC, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that more evidence about the Library’s early life is waiting to be uncovered.


1st-5th February 2016

Join us and a host of other cultural institutions around the world as we invite you to #ColorOurCollections!

We’ve selected images from Peter Lowe’s (founder of our College in 1599) book, The Whole Course of Chirurgerie. Originally published in 1597, this book was the very first general surgical text to be published in English. The text takes the form of a dialogue between a teacher (John Cointret) and his pupil (Peter Lowe) and covers five different classes of operation.

Download an illustration, get creative with those colouring pens and share your masterpieces with us on twitter (@RCPSGlibrary) using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

Instruments for a little caseLowe002

Lowe003 Lowe004


















And thanks to The New York Academy of Medicine (@NYAMHistory) for coming up with this brilliant idea!

Great Expectations

Friday, 15 May 2015.

After the success of last year’s event we’re very excited to once again be taking part in Festival of Museums. The festival runs from the 15th-17th May 2015 with lots of museums and heritage sites across Scotland taking part. You can find out more at http://www.festivalofmuseums.com

Our event takes place on the 15th May when we’ll be hosting a special evening celebrating the fascinating history of midwifery. In celebration of 100 years of the Midwife (Scotland) Act, Joan Cameron, who is Senior Lecturer in the Mother and Infant Research Unit at the University of Dundee, will be delivering a lecture discussing the contribution of midwifery to the care of women and babies. The evening will also showcase some amazing items from our collection including the beautifully illustrated Gravid Uterus by Scottish anatomist and surgeon William Hunter (1718-1783), the ground-breaking works of obstetrician William Smellie (1697-1763) and a selection of early midwifery instruments.

Refreshments will be available from 6.15pm with the chance to view our special midwifery exhibition. The lecture begins at 7pm.

Places are limited, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

Contact library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072.

Poster advertising great expectations

Guest blog: Work Experience in the College Library

This year’s placement from the University of Strathclyde Information and Library Studies MSc/PgDip course was Angela McLean.  Angela has kindly agreed to share her experience of working in the Library here as follows:

“The MSc Information and Library Studies course offered at the University of Strathclyde, allows students the opportunity to experience five weeks of work in a library setting. I couldn’t believe it when I was told that the library I had specifically asked for had been given to me and that I would be working at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

My first task during my placement was to take an inventory of a selection of the rare books that were believed to be duplicates, this was a great opportunity to spend all day with rare books and, more practically, to gain a better insight into the library collection available at the College.

After I had finished this process, I was never short of tasks to do and helped with the archives, as well as researching and photographing more rare books from the collection for the ‘Adopt-a-book’ scheme.

Books waiting to be adopted and conserved.

Books waiting to be adopted and conserved.

I was also in charge of the library for a few hours on my own, which thankfully went by without a hitch and I learned how to fix the indispensable coffee machine available in the library (trust me when I say it is a vital component of the library).

The Library tea and coffee machine - learning how to operate this is an essential skill.

The Library tea and coffee machine – learning how to operate this is an essential skill.

My time at the Royal College has made me certain that I definitely want to pursue a career in libraries because of the sheer variety of tasks that need done on a daily basis. Also, I felt very welcomed by all the library staff and wider College staff which made it a delight to turn up every day.  In fact, I enjoyed my five weeks working in the Library that I have decided to stay on and help with a few odd jobs.”

Please do get in touch with the library should you wish to adopt a book by emailing library@rcpsg.ac.uk

Dental instruments of the late 18th/early 19th centuries

This is the second blog about some of the dentistry items we have in the historical collections at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.  The first blog, published in November 2013 was on the topic of Renaissance Dentistry.

Today I will be exploring some of the implements used for tooth extraction in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of our main sources for this is Savigny’s catalogue of instruments published in 1798. This work, entitled A Collection of Engravings Representing the most modern and approved instruments used in the practice of surgery is the first illustrated British catalogue of surgical instruments.  In his introduction, Savigny laments that in nearly twenty years as a workman there were not engravings and explanations of such items, particularly in consequence of the “rapid and astonishing improvements” of recent years.  He notes the publication of two others on the Continent, namely Brambilla at Vienna and Peret at Paris.  The book consists of engraved plates of instruments, largely reproduced in life size along with an accompanying text describing the items. The work provides a wealth of information about the surgical instruments in use during this period.

During the late 18th century/early 19th century the most frequently used instrument for extraction was the toothkey.

Forceps and scaling instruments from Savigny's catalogue, 1798

Forceps and scaling instruments from Savigny’s catalogue, 1798

Several forms of toothkey are illustrated on the right hand side of Plate XIV (above). The third item down on the right hand side is an older version of the toothkey with a straight stem and bolster.  The instrument in this form was first  mentioned in 1742.  Above it is an example of an improved instrument which came into use by 1770 with a curve at its extremity to aid extraction.   Savigny himself invented a modification to the key and this is illustrated on the bottom right of the plate. He writes “on comparing and reflecting on the various forms which the key instrument has received, I have ever found their principal defect to arise from the depth of the bolster, which, even in the smallest, describes in its action so large a circle as to occasion unavoidable inconvenience; and in the larger, or deeper ones, certain danger of fracturing the alveolar process, and of being followed by consequences always painful and frequently dangerous”.  Savigny’s design of bolster was intended to raise the offending tooth in a nearly perpendicular direction and thus lessen the chances of bruising or laceration.

An instrument known as a Spring or German key is  illustrated at the top left hand side of Plate XIV while below it is what Savigny terms a “Pulican” (Pelican) used for the extraction of the incisors.  The two instruments on the bottom left hand side are punches used for extracting stumps.  Above them is an instrument used for extracting the incisors of children by raising them perpendicularly.

Plate XIV from Savigny's Catalogue, 1798

Plate XIV from Savigny’s Catalogue, 1798

Plate XV illustrates instruments for scaling and cleaning the teeth (left hand side), two levers for forcing out stumps (top right hand side), various forceps or paces used for extracting the stump or removing the tooth after it had been disengaged from its socket by the toothkey.  The forceps at the bottom of the plate, termed Front or Hawk’s-bill Paces, was used in a similar way to the pelican to extract the incisors.  A set of gum lancets is illustrated on the bottom left hand side of the plate.  These were used to detach the gum from the tooth before extraction.

If you are interested in viewing Savigny’s catalogue or any of the items mentioned in our blog posts then please get in contact with the library to arrange an appointment email: library@rcpsg.ac.uk