Ronald MacKeith (1908-1977)

  • MacKeith, Ronald, 1908-1977.
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The Ronald MacKeith papers include not only MacKeith's own research papers, mainly comprised of reports and published articles, but material relating to the Medical Education Information Unit of The Spastics Society, which he was director of and intimately involved in developing. These files predominately relate to the study groups MacKeith established (programmes, recorders' summaries, typescripts of papers presented and photographs) and Medical Advisory Council and Editorial Board (minutes, memorandum, correspondence). There are also a small number of informational booklets from other medical societies and research material from Martin Bax, who worked closely with MacKeith and succeeded him as senior editor.



Physical description

22 boxes and 3 oversize items


The papers have been divided into 6 sections, which reflect their original order and MacKeith's principal activities as Director of the Medical Education and Information Unit at The Spastics Society and a working doctor with research interests.

They also reflect the varied provenance of the material, which was stored at MacKeith Press. This material encompasses MacKeith's working files, Spastic Society material and a small number of items from Martin Bax, his successor as Senior Editor at the Society. They have been maintained together as they reflect the origins of the material and MacKeith was so instrumental in the work of the MEIU that there is no clear division between his personal papers and those of the Unit.

  • A: Research files
  • B: Publications
  • C: Personal items
  • D: The Spastics Society
  • E: Other societies and conferences
  • F: Martin Bax research material
  • Acquisition note

    The papers were transferred to the Wellcome Trust by Ronald MacKeith's daughter in May 2006.

    Biographical note

    Ronald MacKeith was born on 23 February 1908 as one of a twin and 11 children of a Southampton general practitioner. He was admitted to Queen's College, Oxford in 1926 and then went to St Mary's Hospital Medical School for his clinical studies, qualifying in 1932. He obtained membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) in 1941 and was elected a fellow in 1952 (FRCP). During the war he served as a medical officer in the Royal Navy and in 1941 married Elizabeth Bartrum, with whom he would have four children.

    After the war he joined the staff of Guy's hospital and was appointed Children's Physician in 1948. Shortly afterwards he began a cerebral palsy clinic, which developed into the Newcomen Centre for Handicapped children in 1964, of which he was the first director. He was also during this time paediatrician to the Cassel Hospital and the Tavistock Clinic, emphasising the stong link he saw between paediatrics and child psychiatry.

    One of MacKeith's most significant influences on the practice of paediatrics was his more enlightened and humane treatment of handicapped children in and out of hospital. He advocated an inter-disciplinary approach and saw the whole child and family rather than the disability alone. His primary interest remained children rather than the intricacies of rare diseases. His views are set out in books such as The Child and his Symptoms with John Apley, A New Look at Child Health with Michael Joseph and Infant Feeding and Feeding Difficulties with Chris Wood and Roy Meadow, as well as many articles and editorials in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology and other journals.

    MacKeith became associated with The Spastics Society (now SCOPE) in the early 1950s and was appointed the Director of the Medical Education and Information Unit (MEIU) in 1958. He was instrumental in developing this unit, which was closely associated with MacKeith personally and accounts for some of its papers being interspersed with MacKeith's own. MacKeith's most significant contribution as director was the foundation of a journal and renowned study groups.

    The meetings organised by MacKeith (and now called the MacKeith meetings) were of 2 kinds. There were bi-ennial International Study Groups on Child Neurology and Cerebral palsy, held in Oxford, where international experts were brought together in 'workshops' to discuss specific selected topics and child neurology in general. Secondly, there were large open meetings designed for health professionals, usually devoted to a broad, practical theme and held all over the country.

    The Cerebral Palsy Bulletin was founded in 1958, (from 1962 Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology) when MacKeith convinced the Society that such a publication would help them further their objectives of spreading understanding of disabilities and the special needs of those who have them and stimulating research in the area. MacKeith was also instrumental in its recognition by the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy as their official journal and remained senior editor of this and its sister publication, Little Club Clinics (from 1963 Clinics in Developmental Medicine), up until the time of his death. Editorial policy lay with the Editorial Board, which reported to the Medical Advisory Committee of the Society. He was succeeded by Martin Bax, a friend and close colleague, who remained in post until his retirement in 2003. In 1967 the Press was named Spastics International Medical Publications (SIMP), becoming MacKeith Press in 1986 and a separate wholly-owned subsidiary in 2001.

    MacKeith was involved with numerous other societies and had wide ranging medical interests. For instance, he was engaged with the topic of medical education and a founder member of the Association for Medical Education and secretary then chairman of the Medical Committee of the Scientific Film Association. Medical ethics and the role of doctors in the public field was another area of interest and he was chairman of the Medical Association for Prevention of War. MacKeith founded the British Paediatric Neurology Association and British Community Paediatric Group and a member of the British Paediatric Association and the Royal Society of Medicine. He was also a keen member of the Johnson Club.

    Honours included the James Spence Medal (1972), Rosen von Rosenstein Medal of the Swedish Paediatric Association (1974), the Special Merit Award of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy (1975) and the Albrecht von Haller Medal from the University of Gottingen (1977).

    MacKeith died suddenly on 30 October 1977 after being taken ill several hours earlier at home.

    Related material

    The following related material is also held at the Wellcome Library:

    A file on Ronald MacKeith appears in the papers of one of his colleagues, Phillip Rainsford Evans (1910-1990) at reference PP/PRE/B.8/1, and he appears in the papers of Donald Woods Winnicott (PP/DWW) and the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (WA/HMM).

    Other members of the MacKeith family occur in the Wellcome Library's holdings: namely, Ronald MacKeith's father Norman MacKeith (1901-1989), MS.8011; John S. MacKeith (b.1934), PP/JMK; James MacKeith (1938-2007), PP/MCK; and Stephen MacKeith (1906-1995), GC/135/B and GC/206. A general collection of material on the MacKeith family, compiled by John S. MacKeith, can be found at MSS.9203-9209.

    Copyright note

    Copyright rests with Ronald MacKeith's heirs and assigns.

    Terms of use

    This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

    Ownership note

    Before transfer to the Wellcome Trust, the papers were housed at the MacKeith Press.

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    Accession number

    • 1433