Dame Hilda Lloyd and the Birmingham Flying Squads

This piece first appeared on the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections Blog and is re-posted with their kind permission.

Dame Hilda Lloyd was a pioneer in many senses. After becoming the first female professor at the University of Birmingham in 1944, she rose to become the first President of any Royal Medical College: the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1949. One of her many accomplishments was introducing the use of obstetrical ‘flying squads’ in Birmingham, which saved the lives of countless mothers and babies.

Sir Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) Portrait bust of Dame Hilda Lloyd. Bronze, 1951, Research and Cultural Collections

Hilda Nora Lloyd (née Shufflebottom) was born in 1891 and raised in Balsall Heath to a middle class family.  She was educated at King Edward Vl High School for Girls and attended the University of Birmingham, a good option for female medics given the facilities of the department and its progressive admission policy.  However, whilst the Medical School supposedly admitted women on equal terms from 1900, it was not until WWI that this became reality.  Birmingham was certainly more progressive than many other universities but it’s unclear how long it would have taken for admissions to rise without the circumstances of wartime: only in 1916/1917 did women fill 40% of admissions and hold many residency positions.

It was during this time of flux that Lloyd qualified and after house officer posts and further training in London, she returned to Birmingham for a residency in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Maternity and Women’s hospitals.  She qualified as a surgeon in 1920 and proved herself to be skillful and enthusiastic.  Lloyd rose through the ranks, becoming a lecturer in 1934, professor in 1944 and chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1946. She also served on planning committees for blood transfusion and radiotherapy, the hospital governing board, NHS maternity committee and the advisory board for the Royal College of Nursing.  Local engagement led to national recognition and, in 1949, she was elected as the first female President of a Royal Medical College, at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).  She remains, to this day, the only female president of that college.  Despite initial opposition from many of her male peers, her ability, charm and tact led to two unanimous re-elections.

Minnitt Gas and Air Machine, 1940s, Research and Cultural Collections

Gas and air machines were introduced in the 1930s and allowed anaesthetic to be administered without the presence of an anaesthetist. They were a key piece of equipment in the Flying Squad kit.

Lloyd understood the difficulties of poverty, STD’s and illegal abortion amongst the poor of Birmingham and was interested in practical solutions: one of her major innovations was the introduction of obstetrical ‘Flying Squads’ in 1936.  The Birmingham ‘Flying Squads’ combined obstetrical care with the capacity to carry out emergency resuscitation and, most crucially, blood transfusion.  Whilst the majority of each flying squad’s time was spent dealing with deliveries and post-delivery emergencies, they also dealt with complications surrounding abortion.  The ability to provide emergency care and transfusions at the scene therefore saved the lives of many women.  Lloyd was passionate about implementation – she took the first night shift with the Flying Squad herself and fondly remembered the compulsory tin of biscuits kept with the emergency kit to sustain the team through long call-outs!

Flying Squad case, Research and Cultural Collections

A pioneer herself, she also worked to encourage more women into the medical profession and better the prospects of female obstetricians and gynaecologists.  She was obviously aware of the difficulties experienced by so many other female medics and set up the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club in 1936 – membership of which was restricted to female members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.  Unusual for the time, she was of the revolutionary opinion that a woman with children should be able to continue her career.  By all accounts, she was respected for her shrewd practicality, skill and good humour and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1951. The University honoured her with a Blue Plaque in 2011 and you can visit her sculptural bust in the Medical School.

With thanks to the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections team. See the rest of their blog here.

Find out more…

Read more about Hilda, and view her Flying Squad letter on the RCOG website.

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