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Monday, 28 October 2013

Sex and the Medical Officer of Health

The Wellcome Library's exciting new project : London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972 (post on the Library blog here) has opened up this enormously valuable resource to a wide range of researchers.

The responsibilities of the Medical Officer of Health were wide, ever increasing for many decades up to and beyond the inception of the National Health Service. However, it may not seem obvious that these reports have anything to offer to the historian interested in sexuality.

In fact, Medical Officers of Health were one group of the medical profession (rather like women doctors) who were taking an interest in the subject of birth control at a period when most doctors were reluctant even to talk about it, and a search across the London MOH reports demonstrates that at least some of their number were mentioning the topic (if not always with approval) from the early 1920s.

They had already been tabulating induced abortion among the causes of mortality within their areas for a much longer period.

Sexually transmitted infections were another public health concern and searching on 'venereal' or 'syphilis' or 'gonorrhoea' produces a substantial number of hits.

By the 1940s and 50s, Marriage Guidance had come to be seen as falling within the purlieu of the MOH's interests and work relating to sex education of young people also features.

There are therefore a number of intriguing research possibilities that spring to mind that could be based on this new resource.

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