Neglect, Ambition, Bad Fortune, and the Early Years of Blood Transfusion

Today we have a guest post written by one of our project volunteers, Ella St John-McAlister.

***

Reading Alfred’s case file left me with the impression that he had been a bright and ambitious boy. He came into the care of The Children’s Society (then known as The Waifs and Strays Society) in 1916. Unlike the subjects of most case files I come across (I am researching children’s illnesses and their medical history) he was a healthy boy. This was in spite of Alfred’s father having passed away when Alfred was five years old and his mother being jailed twice for neglecting her children – although the nature and extent of her “immoral life” is unclear.

We know little about Alfred’s life before he entered The Children’s Society except that he had six brothers and sisters, one of whom was the illegitimate child of a “sergeant who was called to France and killed”. It was for neglecting this child that Alfred’s mother was first jailed in 1916. We also know that all of Alfred’s brothers and sisters were in the workhouse: a desperate, destitute sanctuary for those who were unable to support themselves. Something of Alfred’s character comes across in the application form submitted to The Children’s Society, where it states that Alfred played truant despite being “quick and sharp”.

Alfred was admitted into The Children’s Society’s care at the age of eight in 1916, and at the age of 14 he applied for an apprenticeship on a Navy training ship called the Arethusa, indicating a desire to travel and a willingness to “obey his [the Commander’s] and [his successors’] lawful commands”.

Alfred’s acceptance letter from the Arethusa Navy Training ship, 1922 (case number 20702)

The fact that he was allowed to join the ship indicates that he must have been at a certain level of health because there were strict requirements on the height and health of those who joined:

Age: 13½-15   Height: At least 4ft. 8 in. (without boots.)
Age: Over 15   Height: At least 4ft. 10½in. (ditto.)

Once on board a typical daily menu aboard the Arethusa might have looked something like this:

  • 1lb soft bread
  • 8oz biscuit
  • 7oz fresh meat
  • 8oz potatoes
  • 3/4oz cocoa
  • 1/8oz tea
  • 2/3oz sugar

A pretty meagre and dour menu by today’s standards. After he joined the Arethusa Alfred vanishes from view. Sadly, it is a letter from Alfred’s mother reporting his death in 1926 at the age 18 that enables us to piece together an idea of his last years.

A letter from Alfred’s mother informing The Children’s Society of his death, 1926 (case number 20702)

A letter from Alfred’s mother informing The Children’s Society of his death, 1926 (case number 20702)

Dear Sir,

I feel I must write to tell you the sad news of
my poor boy, Albert [middle initial, surname], he went out to America 2 ½
yrs. ago. I was Expecting him home last Easter, I received
news a fortnight ago to-day to say he met with an accident
on Jan 11th and died Jan 19th it is a terrible shock to me,
I shall never, never get over it, he had an operation and
transfusion of blood, but they could not save him.

When the snow was about, he was in a sled coasting
down a steep hill, when the sled struck a stick, causing it
to swerve into the gutter seriously injuring him, they took
him to St. Vincent’s Hospital, West New Brighton, he was
provided with a private room and two trained nurses, at the
expence [sic] of the New York Telephone Coy. [Company] where he had been
employed only two months, previous to that, he
served 12 months in the U.S Army, so ten of his soldier
friends acted as ball [sic] bearers and firing squad over his
grave, he put his age on 3 years, by letters I have had his
friends were surprised at his correct age, he was a fine
fellow. The British Society and his firm gave him a good
burial, plenty of flowers, in fact, he was far better
treated than he would have been in England, I hope you don’t
mind me writing, but I felt I must.

I don’t know what I shall do without him, he
was always a man in his ways, I would not mind so much if
I could have seen him the last of him, or if I only I could see
his grave.

I hope this will find Matron quite well,

I am,

Yours Truly,

(Sgd. [Signed]) Alice [middle initial, surname]

It is a sad ending to what looked as if it could have been a very promising future, but this letter also holds some fascinating information. The reference to a blood transfusion is the first instance we have found of this procedure in The Children’s Society’s case files. The technology behind the procedure for extracting, storing, and transfusing blood was still developing at the time Alfred received his transfusion.

The first recorded, successful attempts at blood transfusions happened in the 1600s, although these experiments used animals. Even in the late 1800s blood transfusions were shunned by medical professionals and considered extremely risky. In fact, in Britain in the early 20th century, surgery textbooks referred to blood transfusions as a quaint relic of medical history. If only they had known! However, just as the idea of blood transfusions was being cast aside, the discovery of different blood types was made. The medical and surgical needs brought on by World War I also acted as a catalyst for the idea of blood transfusions gaining respectability within the medical field.

Click here for more information about blood transfusions (including an interesting image) from The Science Museum.

What makes Alfred’s story so exciting is that in 1926 when he received his blood transfusion, the first hospital blood bank in the United States had not even been established. Whilst blood was donated voluntarily in Britain from the early 1920s onwards, donors were being paid up to $100 for a pint of blood in the U.S., meaning Alfred’s procedure could have been quite a costly one.

Although Alfred’s case file is fairly slender, it contains useful information on what it was like to be a child at that time and a child under The Children’s Society’s care, and also on an important medical advance, one many of us might take for granted today.

Becoming an Archivist

Have you ever thought you’d like to work in archives? You could be just about to enter the world of work or thinking about a career change; could archives be the career for you?

A few weeks ago, as part of The Children’s Society Archive’s Unexplored Riches in Medical History project, I gave a talk to students at Kingston University, describing what it’s like to be an archivist and how you can get into the profession. Here’s a summary of what I told them:

Why work in archives?
This is a question that only you can answer for yourself! But if you need some suggestions, here are a few of mine:

Firstly, a lot of archivists really like working with archival documents; I know I do. There’s nothing quite like holding a piece of history in your hands and thinking about who created it and what it meant to them. Like the letter below:

Letter from Edward to his mother, 1911 (case number 12589)

Letter from Edward to his mother, 1911 (case number 12589)

November 12th 1911.

Dear Mother,

I hope you are
still well & happy. I have
not heard from Jack yet
but when I have I will
let you know. If I come
home it will cost 3s 1d
but I shall have to out

how long I can stay. I
shall be glad when I can
come home. Could you send
me some stamps. My stamp-
-album is nearly full. I
have a page of United States,
Austria, France & Germany.
We all had a magic-
lantern last night and

I enjoyed it very much.
I shall be glad when
I can live in London again.
As Jack come home from
Canada yet, or, is (his) he
coming at all. Give my love
to Kate & Harriett. I should
like to see you and Kate
again soon & also Gladys.
I hope Stanley still likes

living in Surrey. I think
I must close now.

I remain your loving
Son Edward xxxx.

It’s hard to read this letter without feeling some kind of connection to 13-year old Edward, with his drawing and stamp-collecting and hopes for his family. Read the rest of Edward’s story here.

Every archival document, just like this one, is unique and has its own story to tell. As an archivist, you’ll find yourself discovering those stories and learning all the time.

You may also want to become an archivist to work with people and to help people. Archives exist to look after documents so that people can read and use them, so a large part of your job as an archivist will be helping people to access documents and to understand them. If you think that being an archivist involves interacting only with documents and not with people, you’ll have to think again.

But archivists don’t just look after documents for people in the present; they also act as custodians to protect documents so that people in the future will be able to read them too (perhaps even hundreds of years into the future!) In this way archivists are really important: what we do not only affects how we understand ourselves today, it affects how people of the future will understand us as well.

What do archivists do?
The main things that archivists do can be grouped into three categories:

  • Providing access to collections
  • Preserving documents
  • Developing collections

Providing access to collections can come in many shapes and sizes. You could be working in a reading room, directly helping researchers to find documents, read them and understand the context they were created in. Or you could be answering questions that come in through emails and on the phone. Then there are other ways of providing access: running activities for school groups, for example, creating exhibitions, or writing web pages and blogs (hmm, that last one sounds familiar somehow).

Not to mention, it’s impossible to provide access to your documents if you don’t know what you have in the first place. Cataloguing your collections to create a database or list of all the documents you look after is really important; as an archivist, you’ll be rather stuck without a catalogue.

And then there’s preserving documents. As I’ve already mentioned, archival documents aren’t just important to us today, they’re important for future generations too; so archivists try their hardest to keep their documents in good condition and readable.

There are all sorts of tasks involved in preservation. You could be packaging documents into archival-quality boxes and folders, you could be checking that you don’t have any book lice or other pests in your archive store, or you could be checking that the temperature and humidity levels in your archive store are good for the documents. (For any of you wondering, unstable environmental conditions can really do a lot of damage to archives, especially if the conditions are unstable for a number of years.)

Digital records, being those created on computers, are a completely different kettle of fish. Anyone who’s tried, unsuccessfully, to open an old file from a floppy disk will know just how difficult and frustrating accessing old digital records can be. Considering that floppy disks were all the rage only 15 years ago, you can see just how proactive archivists need to be to make sure that their digital records remain accessible and readable for years to come.

As for developing collections, this is all about collecting more material for your archive and making sure you’re documenting the things that are happening today. All archives will have a collecting policy, which will help them to decide what types of documents they should add to their collections.

You can’t collect everything, though, or you’d be overwhelmed. One of an archivist’s most important jobs is to decide what things to keep for the future and what things to leave behind. It’s not an easy decision, because it will directly affect how the people of the future understand and learn from their past. I told you archivists were important!

How to become an archivist?
To be an archivist, you need to have a recognised postgraduate qualification. There aren’t too many universities in the UK that offer this qualification, so competition to get on the course can be high.

For anyone looking to get on an archive course, you’ll need to have some experience in an archive first. This experience can be paid (there are a number of jobs out there that are specifically for this purpose) or it could be voluntary. Want to volunteer at an archive? Just get in touch! Many archives take on volunteers, so if you know of an archive that you’d like to volunteer at, one of the best ways is to just ask.

And for anyone wondering: no, you don’t have to have a background in history to become an archivist. My own undergraduate degree was in biochemistry!

A girl who has completed her training and is ready, with her uniform, to go out to work in domestic service, 1910

Where to find out more?
Firstly, you might want to take a look at the hand-out that I made for the talk at Kingston University: Careers in Archives hand-out

The hand-out contains a list of links to places that will give you more information, but two of the most comprehensive guides are:
The Archives and Records Association
Prospects

If you have any more questions, we’d be happy to answer; just leave a comment below, or email: Hidden-Lives-Revealed@childrenssociety.org.uk

Funding for research available

Did you know that the Wellcome Trust gives out research bursaries of £5,000 to £25,000 to fund research into collections, like The Children’s Society Archive, that have received Wellcome Trust funding previously?

Click here to find out more about the Wellcome Trust’s research bursaries.

Our Wellcome Trust-funded Unexplored Riches in Medical History project here at The Children’s Society will be coming to an end in the next few months, and we’ve done so much since we started. We have catalogued and conserved thousands of records that can be used to study medical history. Soon our catalogue will be online for you to search and see what we have for yourself.

And this is where you come in. At the moment our medical history records are an untapped resource, crying out for research. We didn’t call these records ‘Unexplored Riches’ for nothing; they now need to be explored further! A quick browse through this blog will show you just some of fascinating things that you could find in the collection, but that really is just the tip of the iceberg.

Children receiving fresh air treatment in the outdoor ward of St Nicholas' Home, Pyrford, Surrey, early 20th Century

Thanks to the Wellcome Trust’s research bursaries, you can give your research the financial help you need. The bursaries will fund academic research using collections like ours, and it doesn’t have to be historically grounded research either. If you’re not an academic, the bursaries will also fund work in the creative arts, whether you’re an artist, writer, performer or broadcaster wanting to use our collection.

So what medical history sources do we have? Check out these links:

Our records can be used to research many things, but some of our strengths include:

  • Children’s health
  • Victorian and Edwardian healthcare
  • Diseases of poverty
  • Contagious diseases
  • Orthopaedic conditions
  • Historic medical treatments
  • Charities and pre-NHS healthcare
  • Sanitation
  • Vaccination
  • Diet and nutrition

Will you be at the forefront of discovering what our medical history records have to offer? See the Wellcome Trust’s website for more details on how to apply for a research bursary.

If you have questions about the bursaries or about using our collections for research, please email us at: Hidden-Lives-Revealed@childrenssociety.org.uk

Our Changing Brand

Today we have another guest post written by one of our Archivists, Richard Wilson.

***

The Children’s Society was founded in 1881 and has a long history of innovating and adapting to improve the lives of children and young people. Just as the organisation has changed, so too has our branding. Here we’ll take a look at how The Children’s Society has presented itself over the last 130 years.

We started our work by establishing a single residential care home in Dulwich, South London for children living on the streets. The organisation was initially known as the Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays, but this soon changed to the Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays as additional homes opened (the word ‘Central’ was changed to ‘Incorporated’ in 1893). Despite this rather long title, we were commonly known as the Waifs and Strays Society or often just the ‘Waifs and Strays’. The composite below shows branding from 1888, 1903 and the 1930s.

The Children's Society's branding from 1888, 1903 and the 1930s

The middle part of the composite is taken from a letterhead and includes a lozenge shaped drawing on the left-hand side depicting Jesus with three young children. The drawing was frequently used by the Waifs and Strays Society in the early twentieth century and reflects the organisation’s Christian ethos. A complete form of the picture served as the cover image for our supporter magazine, Our Waifs and Strays, and is reproduced below. You will note that the drawing includes biblical quotes about the care of children, which are taken from Exodus 2:9 and Luke 18:16-17.

The Waifs and Strays Society's logo from the early 20th Century

In 1946 the Waifs and Strays Society changed its name to the Church of England Children’s Society. This is still our official name today, although we started to use our abbreviated title, The Children’s Society, for most purposes in the 1980s.

The name ‘Waifs and Strays Society’ enjoyed widespread recognition and fondness amongst many supporters. It had, however, become archaic by the 1940s and no longer represented the variety of children and young people with whom we worked. There were also concerns that the name could stigmatise those in our care.

The composite below comprises letterheads from shortly before and after the name change.

Branding from the 1940s showing the change in name from the Waifs and Strays Society to The Children's Society

The Children’s Society used a sunflower as its logo between the mid-1950s and the early 1970s. The flower had already been used as a logo in connection with street collections and ‘Sunflower Days’ since before World War II and, in 1956, the Sunflower Guild was established for supporters who kept one of our collection boxes at home for regular giving. The composite below shows two letterheads bearing the sunflower logo. The top design was replaced with the lower one in around 1963.

The Children's Society's branding from the 1950s to the 1960s

In the late 1960s we considered changing the name of the organisation, developing a new corporate slogan, or both. Suggested names included ‘Care’, ‘Child Savers’ and ‘Aid Britain’s Children’ (ABC). Whilst we decided not to change our name, we did use ‘Aid Britain’s Children’ as a slogan for a couple of years (top left image in the composite below).

We adopted a new logo in the early 1970s showing an adult holding hands with three young children (lower image in the composite). A similar logo was used in connection with our Centenary celebrations in 1981 together with the slogan ‘Children First’ (top right image in the composite).

The Children's Society's branding from 1969 to 1981

Shortly after our Centenary celebrations we adopted new, simpler branding without a logo (top image in the composite below). This remained in use until 1988 when a colourful new logo was introduced depicting three children with the strapline ‘Making Lives Worth Living’ (middle images in the composite). The new logo was part of a wider rebrand which sought to focus on the positive difference that the organisation made to the lives of children and young people rather than the negative circumstances that caused them to seek our support.

A further rebrand took place in 1998, when our previous logo depicting a person reaching for the stars was adopted. The original version of the logo had 13 stars (bottom left image in the composite), which could be interpreted as a representation of Jesus (the larger gold star) and the 12 Apostles, underlining our connection with the Church of England. The 13 stars also had historical symbolism, depicting 13 penny stamps – the first donation that our founder Edward Rudolf received over 130 years ago. Bottom right in the composite is the last version of the ‘reaching for the stars’ logo, which was introduced in 2010 and used until 2014 when our current branding was launched.

The Children's Society's branding from the 1980s to 2014

The Golden Needle League

Happy New Year! We start 2015 off with a guest post written by one of our Archivists, Richard Wilson.

***

Around the time of The Children’s Society’s Golden Jubilee in 1931 we founded a needlework club for supporters willing to make at least one garment a year for the children in our residential care homes. The club was called the Golden Needle League (GNL) and local branches around the country were formed for volunteers to meet together on a regular basis to sew and knit children’s clothing. Once finished the clothing was donated to a specific local home or sent to our head office in London for distribution according to need. The idea behind the GNL was to reduce our ‘formidable’ annual clothing bill and source high-quality, individual clothing for the children in our care.

The GNL was a great success and by 1943 had over 8,000 members. It continued to operate until 1971 when it changed its name to the Children’s Gift Scheme. The GNL was not a completely new initiative for The Children’s Society. A similar club, the Silver Thimble League, had been operating in the Liverpool area since 1897, and our supporters’ magazine had already been urging readers to make and donate clothing for several years when the GNL was founded.

In 1968 a branch of the GNL was established in the village of Toton near Nottingham by Mrs Eileen Hall. As well as making clothes for children at several of our residential care homes in Central England and a family centre in Nottingham, the branch organised garden parties and other fundraising events for The Children’s Society.

Every member of the GNL was issued with a membership card containing a golden needle (not made out of real gold!), and the front of Mrs Hall’s card is reproduced below (left) next to an earlier promotional leaflet from the 1940s. Underneath these items is a picture of Mrs Hall at a fundraising event in 1979 with several knitted garments made by the Toton Golden Needle League.

Mrs Hall's Golden Needle League membership card (left) and a 1940s promotional leaflet for the Golden Needle League (right)

Photo of Mrs Hall with garments made by the Golden Needle League, 1979

Mrs Hall corresponded regularly with the homes and family centre supported by her group to ascertain what garments they required and obtain measurements for the children and young people. When the clothes were finished, she would often deliver them to the homes in person and meet the residents and staff. Below is a letter that Mrs Hall received from our Woodhouse Eaves home in 1983 thanking her for a donation of clothing and providing details of jumpers and cardigans required by the home. (Click the image for a larger version.)

Letter of thanks to Mrs Hall from the Woodhouse Eaves home, 1983

The Toton branch of the GNL continued to operate until 1993 (several years after the League had been discontinued at a national level) when it changed its name to the Toton Support Group for The Children’s Society. Mrs Hall ran the group until 2013 when she retired after an incredible 45 years of service. During this time she kept a meticulous account of the group’s activities in a series of 39 scrapbooks, which contain a wide range of material, including letters, photographs, publicity material, personal accounts of events and visits and financial records. Mrs Hall is pictured below holding the first scrapbook, which she started in 1968.

Photo of Mrs Hall with her first scrapbook

Mrs Hall has kindly donated her scrapbooks to our archive where they will be retained alongside our administrative and childcare records to help document an important part of The Children’s Society’s history – the work of our local volunteers and supporters.

If, like Mrs Hall, you hold the records of a local Golden Needle League, fundraising or supporters’ group and would like to donate them to our archive we would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach the archive sending an email to Hidden-Lives-Revealed@childrenssociety.org.uk.

Merry Christmas from The Children’s Society Archive

Cover of The Children's Society's Gateway magazine, Autumn 1979, showing a girl with a Christingle

Christmas is just under a week away, and here at The Children’s Society Archive we’ve been busy thinking about the history of Christingle. The first Christingle service for The Children’s Society took place 46 years ago in 1968. Since then, Christingle services have grown in popularity and are now a familiar sight every December.

See our latest blog post for more information about the history of Christingle at The Children’s Society.

Want to take part and help support our work with vulnerable children living in poverty? Click here to find your local Christingle service.

Merry Christmas to you all! We’ll be back with more posts in the New Year.

Unexplored Riches in Medical History – in action!

I’ve got something exciting to share with you today. The Unexplored Riches in Medical History project has now been captured on film!

In a short video that has been produced by the Wellcome Trust, Ian Wakeling, the head of The Children’s Society Archive, gives a really great introduction to the Unexplored Riches in Medical History project.

Have a watch and see us all in action! And, more importantly, see some of the wonderful archive documents that we’re working on.

Come hear a talk about our medical history project on 8 December 2014 in London

Here’s a reminder that I will be giving a talk about our Unexplored Riches in Medical History project next Monday, 8 December.

I’ll be discussing how far we’ve come in this project and I’ll also be looking at some of the fascinating medical history trends that we’ve discovered as we’ve gone along. For example: how was The Children’s Society affected by the flu pandemic of 1918? And just what was so unusual about chicken pox?

Please come along to find out more! The talk will be held at Senate House in London on Monday 8 December, starting at 5:30pm. Attendance is free.

Click here for more details.

Children undergoing hydrotherapy treatment at St Nicholas' and St Martin's Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School, Pyrford, Surrey, c1930s

I look forward to seeing you there!

The difficulties of diagnosis

Today we have a story about a girl called Annie, which I shared at the Child Care History Network Conference earlier this year. Hers is a sad story, but at the same time it can teach us a lot about the complexities of diagnosis in the early-20th Century.

Annie was born in 1894 in a small village near Dorking in Surrey. It wasn’t an easy childhood for her: when Annie was 10 years old her father died of pneumonia, and to make matters worse, one year later her mother died of congenital heart disease.

We don’t know what happened to Annie immediately after she was orphaned, but about a year later she went into the workhouse in Dorking. Her two older brothers were working as farm labourers in a nearby village, and her older sister was married and living on another nearby farm, but none of them could afford to help Annie. This meant that the workhouse was the only option.

Annie remained in the workhouse in Dorking for a year until 1907, when she was 13. At this point, the Dorking Guardians of the Poor filled in an application for Annie to enter the care of The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society). Why the application was made at this point, we don’t know; but it’s understandable that they thought it would be good to get Annie out of the workhouse.

See the first page of Annie’s application form below (click the image to see a larger version).

The front page of Annie's application form, giving information about her family, 1907, from case file 12767

Annie’s application was successful and in June 1907 she entered St Margaret’s Home in Penkridge, Staffordshire. Just before entering the home, a medical form notes that Annie is in good health.

Unfortunately, when Annie had been in St Margaret’s Home for two years, her health began to falter. She was sent to Stafford Infirmary, where the doctor who saw her diagnosed her with a weak heart. At this point Annie was 15 (the school leaving age at the time was 12), an age at which the girls in St Margaret’s Home often left care to start work. The doctor at the infirmary advised that Annie shouldn’t start work for at least a few months and that even then it should only be light work. With this advice, Annie was sent back to St Margaret’s Home to recuperate.

Time passed and yet Annie didn’t seem to be getting better. The local doctor at St Margaret’s Home saw her and diagnosed her as having pneumonia along with the heart disease. The doctor’s prognosis, however, was good: he said that with medicine, care and sea air, Annie might get better in a month.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will have noticed that sea air is a treatment that was very popular in the late-19th and early-20th Centuries. The doctor at the home said that Annie should be sent to the East Coast of England because its sea air was known to be bracing. Presumably, when it comes to pneumonia, bracing sea air was thought to be best.

Following the doctor’s orders, The Waifs and Strays Society tried to find Annie a place in their home in Lowestoft in Suffolk. This home, however, didn’t have any special facilities for sick children and so couldn’t take Annie on. With the East Coast not feasible, Annie was instead sent to the South Coast. On this coast, at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, The Waifs and Strays Society had a dedicated convalescent home, Nayworth Convalescent Home, where Annie could get specialist medical treatment.

We next hear of Annie in July 1909, when she had been at Nayworth Convalescent Home for a month. Her illness had grown worse, leaving her bedridden and eating nothing but milk and barley water. By this point, all talk of Annie going out to work had ended. It was thought that she might never be well enough to start work, and might have to rely, once more, on the workhouse in Dorking.

Very shortly, the discussion about Annie’s future had taken a back-seat to her current state of health. See the letter below, sent by the matron of Nayworth Convalescent Home (click the image for a larger version):

Letter from the matron of Nayworth Convalescent Home, discussing Annie's admission to the children's hospital in Brighton, 1909, from case file 12767

August 1rst. 1909

Re Annie [surname]

Dear Sir. –

As I have been nursing night
& day Dr. Parry recommended
this child’s admission to the
Children’s Hospital at Brighton.
I took her there on Friday
afternoon. She was very ill
when I left her & so I went down
yesterday to see her. She had
brightened up a little but the
doctor at the Hospital considers
it a very bad case.

Her heart is weak but Kidney

disease is the primary cause
of the trouble.

I am. yours faithfully

Elsie P. Smith

Annie stayed in hospital for a month, with her condition sometimes getting better and sometimes growing worse. The matron from Nayworth Convalescent Home kept in frequent contact with the hospital during this time.

Sadly, in late August 1909, Annie lost the battle she had been fighting and passed away, aged 15. Her death certificate states that she had died of pancreatitis followed by heart failure. Correspondence in Annie’s file describes just how much she would be missed by the people who had looked after her during her time in care. She was said to have been very patient in the face of her illness and grateful for all that was done for her.

When it comes to Annie’s story, I’m particularly intrigued by the variety of diagnoses that she was given. Her first diagnoses were heart disease and pneumonia and, if you remember, these are the diseases that Annie’s parents had died of. You have to wonder if the doctors were thinking that Annie’s illness might be hereditary or linked to her parents in some way.

Then, when Annie went to hospital in Brighton, she was given a diagnosis of kidney disease, suggesting that the doctors there saw she was having abdominal trouble. Finally, on the death certificate, it states that Annie died of pancreatitis and heart failure.

We will never know which diseases Annie actually suffered from. It seems likely that she had either kidney disease or pancreatitis, and that she also had a hereditary heart condition. She may even have had pneumonia as well, although it’s hard to tell from this distance of time. This lack of clarity shows us just how difficult it was for doctors to reach a diagnosis, and how difficult it was to treat cases like Annie’s, with only the medical knowledge available at the time.

Exploring the history of disabled children in care

It’s UK Disability History Month, which is a good time to reflect on disability history and what it means for today. The Children’s Society has helped disabled children ever since it was founded in 1881; this means that our collections here at The Children’s Society Archive can tell a lot about the history of disabilities and attitudes to them over the past 130 years.

Leaflet celebrating 50 years of the Children's Union, a body which raised funds for The Children's Society's homes for disabled children, leaflet dated 1938

Two years ago we finished a project called Including the Excluded, which catalogued and preserved our archival collections relating to The Children’s Society’s work with disabled children.

Click here to visit the project’s webpages and find out more about The Children’s Society’s work with disabled children (and to see catalogues of the documents we hold that can be used to study disability history).

We blogged about the Including the Excluded project as we went along, so check out the Including the Excluded category to see the stories and insights that we came across.