Friday, 9 February 2018

Gertrude Herzfeld: Paving the way for female surgeons

In this week's blog we are recognising International Day of Women and Girls in Science by taking a look at the life of Scotland's first practicing female surgeon, Gertrude Herzfeld.

The upcoming International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February 2018 is a chance to promote the globally recognised goals to achieve full science and gender equality. A persistent gender gap underrepresents the participation of women and girls in education, training and employment in areas of science, technology and engineering. Here at LHSA we can find many examples amongst our collections of extraordinary women who fought many barriers and prejudices of history to make their mark in the field of science and medicine. One of our more unsung heroines Gertrude Herzfeld (1890 – 1981) is a perfect example of this and will represent our recognition of International day of Woman and Girls in Science. Celebrating Herzfeld, although a figure of history, is inspirational to the fight that still exists to empower women and girls to achieve full and equal access to participate in science. 
Gertrude Herzfeld (LHB8/71/1)
Herzfeld, born in London in 1890 to Austrian parents, first made her mark in studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1914. Although early in life Herzfeld had aspirations of being a doctor, being a woman at this time was strongly against a career choice in medicine. Least of all, women had to attended separate lectures from men at university and at the University of Edinburgh the Faculty of Medicine did not admit women on an entirely equal footing to men until 1916[1]. Nevertheless, from here she based much of her career in Edinburgh and is most famously known for being the first practicing female surgeon in Scotland. She was appointed as surgeon at the Royal Edinburgh hospital for Sick Children (together with LHSA favourite Norman Dott) and the Chalmers Hospital in 1925. Eventually she also took on the role of surgeon at Edinburgh Orthopaedic clinic (1925-1955) and at Bruntsfield hospital for Women and Children. Herzfeld was the first female practicing surgeon to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, taking her seat in 1920.
Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children (LHB5)
Over the next twenty to thirty years Herzfeld practiced and developed a wide range of procedures in paediatric and gynaecological surgery, becoming a specialist in abdominal, neonatal, orthopaedic and plastic surgery as well as the treatments of burns and trauma.  Aside from her surgical practice she gain accolade in her teaching and publishing, lecturing on childhood surgery at the University of Edinburgh and at the Edinburgh School of Chiropody, of which she was also a founding member. Throughout this time she was also medical advisor to the Edinburgh Cripple Aid Society and Trefoil School for Physically Handicapped Children. In later life Herzfeld chaired the Edinburgh City branch of the British Medical Association and was the National President of the Medical Women’s Federation between 1948-1950.

A selection of Herzfeld's publications 1925-1950 (LHB8/15/12)

Aside from these achievements and contributions to her field (but what also probably underwrote many of her great accomplishments in life) it seems Herzfeld was full of warmth and wisdom. It was noted that she showed real compassion to her patients and colleagues, in return she was affectionately nicknamed ‘Gertie’. One contemporary described her as, “Large in heart and in mind”.[2] As a highly skilled surgeon she was known to have performed the ‘Stiles’ Procedure’ to treat infants with inguinal hernia six times in fifty minuets! But even more than her professional brilliance she greatly respected her patients as individuals, getting to know their own social and psychological circumstances. Herzfeld reflected on this, "Orthopaedic surgery in the young child should really be linked with the general care of the child".[3] Through her practice and teaching Herzfeld was a great promoter of women in medicine and continued to support their fight against the barriers and challenges she faced in her own career. Herzfeld died aged 90 in Edinburgh in 1981. Her legacy paved the way for female surgeons in Scotland and she is remembered as an inspirational woman of medicine and science.
Herzfeld’s portrait is hung at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and her name is in the bank for Edinburgh City Council to use as a future street name – so there is potential for a little lasting tribute.


[1] University of Edinburgh. 2016. Alumni in History. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 February 2018].
[2] Macintyre, I and MacLaren, I (Eds.). Surgeons’ Lives (2005). Pg. 198.
[3] Herzfeld, G. (1949). Twenty-Five Years of Paediatric Surgery - A Retrospect. [Publication] Lothian Health Services Archive, Bruntsfield Hospital. Edinburgh.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Taking special care...

Today, the Neonatal Unit of the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health is holding a symposium to mark a very special delivery: the 50th anniversary of the Special Care Unit, first opened in the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion (SMMP) in 1968.

The SMMP itself welcomed mothers through its doors in 1939, moving maternity services from their old location on Lauriston Place to a building on what was then the site of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
SMMP, c. 1950s (P/PL3/SM/064)

In the 1930s, the paramount concern in obstetrics was for the health of the mother, and survival rates for premature (and many full-term) infants were much lower than they were to become in the late 1960s. This meant that few facilities were devoted to specialised care for newborn babies. But attitudes to neonatal care were shifting, with birth practice becoming more child-centred, medicine advancing and the role of the pediatrician expanding. The maternity wards of old were no longer up to the job.

The new SMMP Special Care Unit had thirty cots over four nurseries, one each dedicated to premature babies, babies with problems with their metabolism, babies with breathing problems, and babies suffering from infections. The Unit had its own staff of expert, specialist nurses, and (being based on the same site as the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh) could call on clinicians from the Infirmary for support when it came to difficult and intricate procedures (in very small children), such as blood transfusion and anaesthetic administration.

In its first year, 765 babies were admitted to the Special Care Unit, over 16% of all babies born in that time at the SMMP. A dedicated neonatal course for nurses was also set up - ensuring that this specialist branch of care would be supported for years to come, not only in Edinburgh, but through the learning of students from around the world.

Specialist nurses caring for babies in the early days of the Unit, 1972 (P/PL3/SM/067, 071)

In 1972, the Unit was helped by the donation of an ambulance from the Variety Club. No normal patient-transport vehicle, it was designed to move at-risk or premature babies to the SMMP from areas where specialist neonatal care was unavailable. Until 1979, standard ambulances could not provide the environment nor carry equipment needed to safely transport such delicate patients.

Variety Club special ambulance, 1972 (P/PL3/SM/081)
The Unit is still going strong today, helping vulnerable babies back to health and supporting parents through the most difficult times. If you'd like to read some more recent stories from parents about their babies' care in what is now the Neonatal Unit, you can see them here.

The Special Care Unit in 1983 (P/PL3/SM/074)

Friday, 19 January 2018

What’s in store for LHSA’s 2018?

In the first blog of 2018, we continue the LHSA tradition of taking a quick look at what we have planned for the year…

We handed in our Archive Service Accreditation review paperwork last month and a visit from our assessors is imminent. We’ve had a busy three years since being awarded accredited status so there is plenty to update them on!

We’ll find out the outcome of our accreditation review in March and in the meantime we’re looking forward to welcoming someone new to our team. Alice, our previous Access Officer, left us last year and we’re in the process of recruiting her replacement. The interviews are next week and we hope to have someone in post shortly after that. Watch this space - our new Access Officer will be blogging here!

The next few months will be particularly busy as we make our final preparations for the new General Data Protection Regulation, which is enforceable from May, and we’ll be finishing off our Wellcome Trust-funded project to catalogue case notes relating to TB and diseases of the chest too. July sees the NHS’s 70th birthday so we’ll be getting involved in the celebrations by putting on an exhibition – more on that in the blog later in the year, and on Facebook (lhsa.edinburgh) and Twitter (@lhsaeul). 

And of course there’s all our usual LHSA business: we’ll be developing and preserving the collection, supporting research and teaching, answering your enquiries and continuing our volunteer and intern programme…all of which will feature here at some point in 2018. Providing access to the collections will be a big part of the next 12 months, and we started as we mean to go on by participating in a People’s History of the NHS Roadshow in Edinburgh's Central Library last week. You can find out more about the event, and the People’s History of the NHS project, here: the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh recipes below are just a little taste (pun intended!) of the collection items we displayed as part of the Roadshow.