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SHAW, Sir William Fletcher Shaw (1878-1961) papers

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1538 S34
Held at: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
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Full title: SHAW, Sir William Fletcher Shaw (1878-1961) papers
Date(s): 1906-1962
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 20 boxes, 1 volume
Name of creator(s): Shaw | Sir | William Fletcher | 1878-1961 | Knight | gynaecologist | joint founder of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Fletcher Shaw (1878-1961) was born near Manchester and educated at Manchester Grammar School and Owens College (later the Victoria University of Manchester). In 1920 he was appointed Professor of systematic obstetrics and gynaecology in the University of Manchester, where he remained until his retirement in 1943. He was married twice, with three sons by his first marriage. He was knighted in 1942.

Fletcher Shaw was a gynaecologist of considerable distinction, with particular interests in conditions of the uterus and the use of analgesics in labour. He was an active member of medical societies, including the North of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society, Gynaecological Travellers and the Gynaecological Visiting Society. He was the joint founder, with William Blair-Bell, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, its first Honorary Secretary, from 1929-1938, and President from 1938-1943. He was also the author of the first history of the College, Twenty-five years: the Story of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1954 (J & A Churchill Ltd, London, 1954).

It would appear that Fletcher Shaw kept in his personal custody much of his correspondence and other papers relating to the foundation of the College and to his terms of office as president and honorary secretary. He preserved them for their historical value and when he ceased to be president in 1943 he returned to an earlier plan to compose a history of the foundation of the College. In November 1950 the College's Council approved a proposal that it would pay for the publication of the history. Simultaneously, however, Fletcher Shaw appears to have wished to record for a distant posterity memories, judgements, and documents that he must have recognised could not be published during the lifetimes of his own contemporaries and the following generation. In 1953 the then President A A Gemmell suggested that the history should be extended beyond the foundation years to cover the entire period up to the present and that it should be published as part of the College's silver jubilee celebrations in 1954.

Fletcher Shaw resumed work with increased energy but his text aroused opposition, partly because of its account of the role of Victor Bonney in the College's formation, and partly because of its frankness. The publishers thought it actionable. After G F Gibberd (honorary secretary 1938-1947) had declined to revise the text Fletcher Shaw contacted a former student, Harvey Flack, who, with an assistant, prepared the text for publication. It was published as Twenty-five Years: The story of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1954 (hereafter cited as Twenty-five Years). (See e.g S34/73/3, S34/85/6, S34/70/7, S34/101. See also A4/4/15, A4/4/21a-b.) In his preface Fletcher Shaw praised Flack's skilful editing. Nevertheless it would appear that he felt that while compromise was necessary to ensure publication in 1954 it resulted in an incomplete account of events. It was apparently for this reason that he continued to revise and augment his different drafts and directed that after his death all his papers should be sent to the College. These papers therefore preserve all Fletcher Shaw's drafts together with supporting documentation, research notes, and specially prepared extracts from Council, and Finance and Executive Committee minutes, and from his personal diary. In the list below no serious attempt has been made to identify the relationship of the different drafts to the published text in Twenty-five Years.

One of Fletcher Shaw's motives in writing his accounts of the history of the College was to record his own recollections and perceptions of events in contradistinction to William Blair-Bell's. Fletcher Shaw knew that Blair-Bell had composed his own account of the early years of the College and he was concerned that this account might be unduly informed by Blair-Bell's own bitterness and regrets. (See in particular S34/3, S34/69/9). It is unlikely that Fletcher Shaw ever saw Blair-Bell's history as it remained in the custody of the latter's executors until 1970 when it came into the College's possession (it is now S33/1-2 - there is some correspondence between Blair-Bell and Fletcher Shaw in A4/4/22-24 on their respective plans).

In order to assist him in his composition the College Secretary W E Mallon sent Fletcher Shaw various papers and documents. Many of these are to be found among these papers. He also corresponded with some of his contemporaries and colleagues in order to make use of their recollections.

Bibliography: Sir John Peel, The Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1969, Whitefriars Press Ltd, 1975, pp 38-40.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir William Fletcher Shaw, 1906-1962, mainly relating to the history of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, including draft history of the foundation of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, drafted 1943-1946 and subsequently amended, 1943-1960; various drafts of chapters for the history; correspondence with Sir Boyd Merriman, Solicitor General, mainly concerned with the College's registration by the Board of Trade, 1929-1934; correspondence with William Blair-Bell, 1924-, with H Russell Andrews, 1926-1929, with Hempsons, Solicitors, 1926-1929, with Comyns Berkeley, 1925-1931, with Eardley Holland, 1928-1949, with J S Fairbairn, 1928-1929, with Victor Bonney, 1928-1929, with Ewen MacLean, 1926-1929, with Sir Francis Champneys, 1926-1929, with J M Munro Kerr, 1926-1945, with T W Eden, 1926-1929, with Lord Riddell, 1931-1933, with Carlton Oldfield, 1926-1929, with C G Lowry, 1927-1929, with F J McCann, 1927-1929, with AA Gemmell, 1927-1929;

papers preserved by Fletcher Shaw for their importance in the foundation of the College, including his earliest note on the subject, copies of GVS (Gynaecological Visiting Society) minutes, 1925-1927, counsel's opinion on the draft memorandum and articles of association with a copy of the draft, copies of the minutes of the Executive Committee, 1927, copies of correspondence and circular letters, 1927-1929, minutes of signatories and first full Council meeting, and other papers relating to the earliest activities of the College, 1924-1929;

typescript extracts from Fletcher Shaw's diaries including a letter to his son David (1940) explaining nature of their compilation and his wish to rival Blair-Bell's history, 1930-1943; typescript extracts from Fletcher Shaw's diary, 1930-1943,1947-1949,1953; correspondence with Sir Ewen Maclean on the presidency of Sir Eardley Holland and the early history of College, 1943-1946; minutes of Council with a few agenda and other papers, 1929-1935; draft memoirs of L C Rivett, J S Fairbairn, Russell Andrews, Sir Ewen Maclean, Sir Comyns Berkeley, Sir Eardley Holland, and Sir Francis Champneys, undated; file relating to the Standing Joint Committee of the three Royal Colleges, with later papers relating to Fletcher Shaw's account of the role of the RCS in the foundation of the College, 1942-1944; description and notes with related correspondence on the formation of a committee representing the medical profession in relation to the Beveridge Report, 1943; College's report on 'The health of women war workers from the gynaecological aspect' with associated papers and correspondence, 1942; papers relating to D W Roy and the Inter-Departmental Committee on abortion and Fletcher Shaw's later dispute with him, 1937-1938, 1940; correspondence relating to proposal to build RCOG, Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Surgeons on one common site, 1942-1943; correspondence with Sir Alfred Webb-Johnson, President, RCS, 1943-1946; personal correspondence of Shaw, 1951-1955; diary, 1938-1943;

papers relating to the College in wartime, and medical and maternity services in wartime, including the evacuation of pregnant women, 1938-1943, the College's relations with the BMA, 1938-1943, the College's relations with the RCP and RCS, 1939-1943, the appointment of gynaecologists to the armed services, Fulmer Chase Officers' Wives Maternity Hospitality, and women war workers, 1939-1943; correspondence with the Central Medical War Committee of the BMA, 1939-1941; papers and correspondence on infertility, 1944-1945;

various papers including an appeal for funds, 1932, standing orders for Council meetings, a paper on the drafting of the contentious clauses in the College's memorandum of association, Council papers relating to inter alia the Australian Regional Council, the Central Consultants and Specialists' Committee, Standing Joint Committee of the Three Royal Colleges memorandum on gynaecological cancer, and the National Birthday Trust Fund, programmes for Manchester Royal Infirmary Old Residents Club Dinners, 1910-1958; newspaper cuttings - one dated Feb 1907 re Manchester University students rowdy 'gown' debate mentioning Fletcher Shaw, the other confirming appointments at Manchester Royal Infirmary - Fletcher Shaw one of two house surgeons, c1907; copies of speeches, lectures and addresses made by Fletcher Shaw, 1938-1959; Fletcher Shaw's Memorial Service programme and transcription of address given at the service by Professor W I C Morris, 1961; obituary of Fletcher Shaw by E A Gerrard: 'The One Hundred and Second Record', 1962; copies of published gynaecological articles by Fletcher Shaw, 1906-1954.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The contents of the wooden box had been carefully arranged by Fletcher Shaw and are now numbered S34/1-66. The contents of the two packing cases consisted of box files and parcels of folders tied together with string. They do not appear to have been placed in the separate cases for any reason other than packing convenience. Some of the parcels of folders contained closely related files, others did not. The contents of one of the two packing cases have been numbered S34/67-80 and S34/92; the contents of the other one S34/81-87. The files making up each parcel of folders have been kept together and the different files within the parcels have been given sub-numbers (eg S34/67/1-3) so that their physical relationship to one another at that their time of despatch to the College can be discerned. The folder covers, many of which were extremely dirty and worn, have been photocopied so that searchers can make use of their titles. In six cases they have been preserved on account of their annotations and are to be found at S34/90. The contents of the brown paper parcel have been numbered S34/88-89.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright: vested in the College, other than published articles, which are in the copyright of the publisher unless over 70 years old, in which case they are out of copyright.

Finding aids:

A general index to the files listed in the catalogue of the Archives of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is maintained in the College Archives; refer to the College Archivist.

Archival Information

Archival history:

The vast majority of the papers listed below were discovered in the College's strong room in February 1992 in a wooden box, two packing cases, and a brown paper parcel. The box and packing cases were sent to the College in 1962 in accordance with Fletcher Shaw's instructions given shortly before his death in November 1961. It was clear that they had not been opened since their arrival at Sussex Place. In the minutes of Council for November 1962 there is a list of legacies received from Fletcher Shaw's estate. This includes: "Three boxes containing the earliest correspondence relating to the College....Dr [David] Fletcher Shaw said that Sir William had expressed a wish that the correspondence should be lodged at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist to help any future historian. Sir William had said that the Golden Jubilee was the earliest date on which the contents of the boxes should be made public. Council agreed to this condition." The College had not received the documents at the time of the Council minute, but was responding to a letter from David Fletcher Shaw. It is possible that the contents of the brown paper parcel and other documents (now identified as S34/93-100) were discovered after the dispatch of David Fletcher Shaw's letter. In 1992 and 1994 some further material relating to Sir William was presented to the College by David Fletcher Shaw. The paper items included in this material will be found at S34/101 and S34/102-177 respectively (see under related material for other items).

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

RCOG Archives holds papers relating primarily to Fletcher Shaw's terms of office as Honorary Secretary and President (Ref: A4/4); papers relating to Council matters (Ref: A2/1); correspondence with solicitors and records relating to the granting of the royal charter (Ref: H2); off-print of Fletcher Shaw's "The birth of a College", in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire, Vol 57, No 6, 1950, pp 876-890 (Ref: S27); cassette recording of Sir William Fletcher Shaw's Australian visit, January-March 1947 (Ref: R6/14); photographs of William Meredith Fletcher Shaw, Sir William's second son, donated by David Fletcher Shaw in February 1993 (Ref: PH15/6); photograph of Sir William Fletcher Shaw and others in Buffalo NY and photographs of members of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, which were included in the documents donated by David Fletcher Shaw in 1994 (Refs: PH15/7 and PH7/9-11); cassette recording of a Macquarie newsreel `Sir William Shaw - Gynaecologist and Obstetrician', 1947, also donated by David Fletcher Shaw (Ref: R6/12); album of photographs of the signatories of the Articles of Association, together with the certificate of incorporation of the College and a copy of the articles of association, donated by William Fletcher Shaw (Ref: H3/11); photographs of Fletcher Shaw as president (Ref: PH1P/4); photograph of him in Buffalo, New York, dated 1936 (Ref: PH15/7), and one taken of him at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary nurses' prize giving, 1952 (Ref: PH15/8).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Biographical details of the individuals who have presented material to the College and/or comprise the subject of the records, have been compiled using information in administrative files and, where relevant, consulting Sir John Peel's book The Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1969, Whitefriars Press Ltd, 1975. Compiled by Clare Cowling, Archivist, RCOG.

Rules or conventions:
National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997; ISAD(G), Second Edition, 2000.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2000

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