International Women's Day is a day celebrated around the world usually on 8 March. It honours the women’s rights movement and brings attention to issues such as gender equality, voting and reproductive rights as well as highlighting the violence and abuse many women suffer in their fight to gain rights. The earliest commemoration of ‘Women's Day’ is recorded as taking place in New York City on 28 February 1909, organised by the Socialist Party of America.
Today, International Women's Day is marked in a variety of ways worldwide; in some countries a public holiday is observed while in others celebrations are held to promote the achievements of women, locally and internationally. The United Nations marked the day for the first time in 1975 and links it to issues, campaigns or themes that affect women’s rights. So too does the Committee of the Red Cross; they seek through Women’s Day to highlight the plight and hardships displaced females face, violence against women as well as female imprisonment.
Globally, International Women’s Day is not only a day of celebration, it inspires women to protest or call for change. This year’s theme of this year’s campaign is #EmbraceEquity. It aims to get the world talking about ‘why equal opportunities aren't enough’. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.
On this International Women’s Day I’d like to highlight the achievement of Margaret (Maggie) Myles (1892-1988), the Aberdeen-born reformer of midwifery.
After leaving school in Aberdeen she emigrated to Canada where she trained as a nurse and married her husband Charles. Sadly, Charles died shortly after the birth of their son, Ian, and Margaret and her child moved back to Scotland. Here she furthered her practice and training in healthcare provision in Alford as a district nurse until she lost her young son to pneumonia in 1924. Leaving Alford Margaret lived and worked in Edinburgh but was offered a job as Matron in Canada. From here Margaret went on to work as a senior tutor at the Postgraduate Hospital in Philadelphia and later became Director of midwifery education in Detroit within a women’s hospital.
In 1935 much to Margaret’s delight she had heard a new maternity hospital had been established in Edinburgh at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, which encouraged her to return to her native shores. By 1939 she was awarded a midwifery teacher’s diploma which allowed her to then tutor midwifery formally. During this period child mortality rates and childbirth were still high and through her training and knowledge she hoped to reduce the number of child and mother deaths. Margaret continued to work tirelessly to train and educate midwives even after she formally retired in 1954.
Myles, however, could not retire completely and she continued to visit and lecture at midwifery schools and mother and child units in Britain, United States, Canada, Africa as well as Australia and New Zealand. She also refused many awards for honours and honorary appointments granted to her throughout her career. One great accolade she did accept was the Honorary Fellowship of the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society in 1978.
Thanks to her dedication, training and experience, Margaret transformed midwifery which has left a lasting legacy. It has not only benefitted women and children in Aberdeen and throughout Scotland but all over the world too. As a medical pioneer, author, tutor and lecturer Margaret’s best-selling book, Textbook for Midwives, published in 1953, is still used today to teach and train midwives. It has been translated worldwide and sold in 75 countries.
Margaret is celebrated in the World Lifesavers display at Provost Skene’s House. Come and visit and discover more inspiring people from Aberdeen and the North-East of Scotland who have helped shape the city and transform the world. Open daily, admission free.
There is a commemorative plaque to Margaret Myles at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, find out more here.
Image: Margaret Myles, Lothian Health Services Archive