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Medical Women's Federation

  • Medical Womens' Federation
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


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.



Physical description

111 boxes, 3 oversize items Uncatalogued: 5 transfer boxes


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]

B. Publications [8 boxes]
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]
C.1-9 History
C.10-18 Section I: Medical Education
C.19-55 Section II: Hospitals founded by women
C.56-73 Section III: Women in Medicine
C.74-143 Section IV: Medical Societies
C.144-156 Section V: Medical women overseas
C.157-175 Section VI (1): World War I
C.176-226 Section VI (2): World War II
C.227-229 Archives
C.243- Historical memorabilia, etc received at a later date

D. Early ('Committee') files, 1919-1940s [5 boxes]

E. General internal and organisational matters, 1940s-1980s [41/2 boxes]

F. Relations with other bodies, 1920s-1980s [151/2 boxes]
F.1-2 Medical Bodies: General Medical Council & British Medical Association
F.3-7 Ministry of Health and other Government Departments
F.8 European Economic Community
F.9-15 Women's Organisations: Women's Group on Public Welfare, Women's National Commission, Various and Women's National Cancer Campaign
F.16-23 Official Commissions and Committees
F.24-34 Miscellaneous other bodies

G. Careers and medical education, 1940s-1980s [14 boxes]
G.1-7 Medical education and qualification
G.8-39 Posts, pay and conditions of service, career pportunities, etc
G.40-51 Postgraduate, vocational and refresher training
G.52 Career Committee
G.53 Careers/Liaison Officers
G.54-59 Miscellaneous matters

H. Subject Files, 1950s-1980s [11 boxes]
H.1-19 Numerical sequence 1950s-1960s
H.20-66 Alphanumeric series 1960s-1970s
H.67-72 'G' sequence 1970s-1980s

J. Surveys and research 1920s-1980s [6 boxes]
J.1-22 Surveys and statistics concerning medical women's careers, 1928-1985
J.23-25 Miscellaneous surveys
J.23 Menopause
J.24 Family planning
J.25 The Old Woman
J.26 Research and Scientific Committee/Cancer of the Ovary Research Project
K. Medical Women's International Association, 1920s-1980s [6 boxes]

L. Inter-Professional Working Party, 1960s-1970s [3 boxes]

M. Deposited personal papers, etc:
M.1 Papers of Dr Alice Emilie Sanderson Clow [1 box]

N. Publications, ephemera, cuttings [3 boxes]

P. Local Associations, 1879-1989 [1 box]

Acquisition note

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.

Biographical note

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.

Association of Medical Women (with 9 members) set up in London.

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).

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.

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.

Appointment of a subcommittee on birth control;
Affiliation of the Association of Medical Women in India;
Standing Committee on Married Medical Women set up.

Vacant Posts Bureau established;
Insurance Scheme Subcommittee set up;
Food Campaign Committee on the value of foods appointed.

Food Campaign Committee reports and is dissolved.

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.

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.

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.

Formation of the Aberdeen and North of Scotland Local Association;
New Standing Committee on Psychological Medicine and Subcommittee on Maternal and Child Welfare appointed.

Appointment of a Committee to deal with question of medical co-education in light of three London hospitals closing their doors to women students.

Standing Committee on National Health Insurance set up; also committees on Dysmenorrhoea and Promotion of Improved Women's Health in India.

1317 members;
Special Committee on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity set up.

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).

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.

Concern over German medical women affected by Nazi rule.

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.

Ad hoc committee on nursing appointed.

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.

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.

Decision to have a Presidential badge made.

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.

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.

Donations from the Federation of Medical Women of Canada for relief of air-raid victims.

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;

Subcommittees appointed to prepare memoranda for Royal Commissions on Equal Pay and the Birth Rate.

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.

Membership reaches 2147.

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'.

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.

Committee on the Place of Family Planning in the NHS appointed.

Ad hoc committee on Part-time Work for Medical Women set up;

Memorandum on Family Planning in the NHS disseminated.

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.

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.

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.

Federation Benevolent Fund Trust deed signed;
Subcommittee appointed to draw up evidence for the Government Committee concerning entries to Medical School.

Ad hoc committee on Maternity Services set up.

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.

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.

Retirement of Mabel Rew after 38 years as Secretary;
Ad hoc committee on Maternity Services dissolved.

Report submitted to Medical Services Review Committee;
Concern expressed about persistence of ritual female circumcision in various African countries.

Working Party set up to discuss future of the Federation.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

First Kate Harrower Lecture.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Council accepts Working Party's recommendation to discontinue publication of Journal and proposed a three-tier membership scheme.

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.

Number of central meetings reduced as a cost-cutting exercise;
DHSS conference on Women Doctors at Sunningdale.

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.

Diamond Jubilee;
Ad hoc Working Party to consider the New Medical Bill.

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.

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.

Meetings with representatives of Royal Colleges re postgraduate training;
Refresher course run at Charing Cross Hospital Postgraduate Medical Centre;
Membership reaches 3226;

Working Party on Maternity Leave set up ;
Public Relations Adviser appointed .

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

70th Anniversary: theme Women, Health and Work;
MWF leaflet revised and circulated.

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.

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.

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.

Retirement of Valerie Lenton as Secretary;
Department of Health Report on Women Doctors and their Careers welcomed and discussed.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Related material

At other repositories:

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.

Archived website

This organisation's website has been archived as part of the work of the UK Web Archiving Consortium (UKWAC) and can be consulted here:

Terms of use

This collection has been partially catalogued and the catalogued part is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records. Requests to view uncatalogued material are considered on a case by case basis. Please contact for more details.


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