Pioneering Mary – nurse and health visitor

Mary Cunningham, nurse, holding two babies at Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital

Mary Cunningham with babies at REMH (1914)

Edinburgh Libraries have a tradition of receiving donations of images from the public. It is a fantastic way of sharing a piece of the city’s history with a wider audience than just your family. One such donation was a photograph album of over 100 images belonging to the wonderfully named Miss Mary Morag Bird Cunningham. This was gifted to us after her death in 1978 and has recently been digitised to make the fantastic images available online. The album is a fascinating pictorial account of Mary’s career as a nurse and pioneer health visitor in Edinburgh from 1911 to the late 1930s.

Nurses from Ward 14 Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (women's surgical)

Nurses from Ward 14, RIE (1911)

Mary began her four years of  training at the Royal Infirmary in 1911 before moving to the Royal Edinburgh Maternity Hospital to become a midwife. The album has a wonderful collection of frequently informal photos of the staff and buildings of these hospitals.

In July 1917 however Edinburgh introduced an extensive Child Welfare Scheme and created the post of health visitor to implement the care of the city’s children. Mary was one of the ten women chosen to become an Edinburgh pioneering health visitor. In her album we follow her from her first day on the job through 20 years of running child health clinics throughout the city.

Mothers and children at Rosefield Avenue Lane Health Clinic

Mothers and children at Rosefield Avenue Lane Health Clinic (1930)

Find out more about Mary’s life and see many of her album’s photographs in our Capital Collections exhibition.

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