The Medical Women’s Federation (MWF): 1879-1948
Founded in 1917, the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) is the largest and most influential body of women doctors in the United Kingdom. Despite an extensive archive held at the Wellcome Library in London, no comprehensive study of the organisation’s formative work currently exists. This thesis sheds new light on the history of the MWF from the year of its original formation as the Association of Registered Medical Women (ARMW) in 1879 to the founding of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. Chapter One analyses the issues faced by the ARMW during its first three decades. Far from being insignificant, the Association played a crucial role in combating the professional isolation of medical women. Chapter Two scrutinises the ARMW’s response to the First World War, and considers the roles played by women doctors both on the home front and overseas. Chapter Three assesses the MWF’s activities during the interwar years through three key themes – resistance, recovery, and reform. The Federation’s efforts to expand the opportunities available to female practitioners are considered alongside an examination of the role played by individual members in transforming perceptions of women’s health. The final chapter of this thesis investigates how the MWF supported its membership during the Second World War, providing novel insights into the variety of work undertaken by medical women. Though the conflict offered a unique opportunity for the Federation to reassert its dominance, the organisation ultimately failed to learn from its past mistakes. The Afterword offers a brief examination of the extent to which women doctors were involved in the formation of the NHS. By drawing on a rich archive of sources, this thesis reveals wide-ranging new perspectives on the personal and professional experiences of British medical women during this seventy-year period, making a significant contribution to the history of women in medicine.