ONCE upon a time, it was a phrase which echoed throughout many of Glasgow’s homes, causing a flurry of tidying: “Quick, the Green Lady’s coming!”

The Green Ladies were Glasgow Corporation’s municipal midwives and health visitors, so-called because of their distinctive bottle-green uniforms.

Glasgow Times: Child welfare clinic, Pollok, 1957 Pic: Newsquest

It was the responsibility of each local authority to provide a uniform of its own design and colour to the nurses in their employ. In Glasgow, the dear green place, the colour choice was obvious. The women wore green gabardine raincoats and brimmed hats in summer and green wool coats and hats in winter.

The Green Ladies offered advice on feeding, hygienic food preparation and domestic cleanliness to families at home, offer ing support and help rather than judgement - although many families still feared their visit.

The Green Ladies owe their origins to earlier city initiatives to improve maternal and child health in the city. The Glasgow Infant Milk Depot opened in Osborne Street in 1904. It provided milk, either cheaply or for free, to families with newborn and growing infants.

After The Notification of Births Act 1907, every birth was required to be registered with the Medical Officer of Health within 36 hours, which helped provide the data to set up the health visitor scheme. After 1918, further strides in improving healthcare for mothers and infants were made. New Maternity and Child Welfare Centres opened in several districts, including Bridgeton in 1925, followed by Maryhill, Springburn, Pollok and Drumchapel.

Glasgow Times: Child Welfare clinic, Royston, 1936. Pic: Glasgow City Archive

Not all Green Ladies were health visitors. Some were domiciliary midwives for Glasgow Corporation. When the city’s midwifery service was originally set up, it was decided to adopt the same uniform and the midwives then joined the ranks of the Green Ladies.

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During the twentieth century, these municipal midwives assisted expectant mothers to give birth at home and provided both pre-natal and post-natal care for the women on their books. When on call, the midwives could be summoned to attend a labouring mother at any hour of the day or night. They usually travelled by public transport or Corporation car.

There are several references to the midwives in our Glasgow Corporation Department of Health archives. According to a 1945 annual report, the city was split into divisions (Eastern, Northern, Central, South-Eastern and South-Western). The report lists the names of each midwife and the division they were assigned to cover.

As the 20th century wore on, national services replaced local ones and the Green Ladies, once such a visible part of the city, were no more.