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The Midwives Act 1902

Midwifery before the 20th century

Prior to 1902, the professionalism of midwives was varied. They were often untrained, unqualified and it has been suggested that some practitioners were prostitutes who were reputedly paid in gin.

In 1869, the Registrar General's office had asked the London Obstetrical Society (founded in 1858) to consider the reasons for infant mortality. The society found that in England, between 50–90% of babies born to poor women were delivered by midwives who had undergone very little training. There were high numbers of stillbirths and maternal deaths.

Although the report's findings had prompted the society to establish certificates of competence in 1872, these were not universally popular and had no statutory basis.

The Central Midwives Board

The 1902 Midwives Act created the Central Midwives Board. The secretary of the board was responsible for the registration of midwives, securing better training of midwives and the regulation of their practice.

Midwives joining the register had to be certified for practice by an organisation such as the Obstetrical Society of London, or have had at least 1 year's professional experience on the passing of the Act and proof of 'good character'.

The Central Midwives Board was replaced in 1983 by the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting. 


The National Archives.
Records of the Central Midwives Board.
The National Archives; nd.

Stevens R.
The Midwives Act 1902: an historical landmark.
RCM Midwives.
2002; 5(11): 370–371.

Arthure HG.
The London Obstetrical Society.
Proc R Soc Med.
1969; 62(4): 363–366.