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The Belfast Lying-in Hospital (1794-1903) by Lisa Lavery

Belfast’s first maternity hospital was established in 1794 due to the efforts of a small group of philanthropists. The aim of the hospital was to aid labouring ‘indigent females’ by providing accommodation, food and medical supervision during childbirth.[1] Rev. John Clark, curate of St. Anne’s Belfast, and Mrs Martha McTier, the wife of Samuel McTier and sister of Dr William Drennan, have been attributed as the founders of this institution.[2] During a visit to his parish Rev. Clark was ‘struck’ by the inadequate provision for labouring women as there was ‘scanty accommodations and provision’ and subsequently discussed the issue with Martha McTier.[3] A meeting was held on 23 December 1793 and the charity entitled the Humane Female Society for the Relief of Lying-In Women (later the B.L.I.H) was founded.[4] The first patroness of the hospital’s Ladies’ Committee was Lady Harriet Skeffington, Viscountess of Massereene and Martha McTier was elected as the first Secretary ‘to her surprise’.[5] McTier also called on the aid of Barbara Chichester, Lady Donegall in the early days of the charity.[6] McTier stated in a letter to her brother, Drennan, that at this time the committee had one hundred female members.[7] The Ladies’ Committee of the Lying-in Hospital was crucial not only in its establishment but to the day-to-day running and organisation of the hospital.

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[1] Belfast Street Directory, 1831, p. 76.

[2] R.W.M. Strain, Belfast and its Charitable Society: A story of urban and social development (London, 1961), p. 161.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Strain, Belfast and its Charitable Society, p. 161.

[6] J. Agnew (ed.) The Drennan-McTier letters Vol. 1 1776-1793 (Dublin, 1998), p. 586.

[7] Ibid.

Lisa Lavery is a graduate of the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast. Her research interests include gender and women’s history, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her MA dissertation focused on childbirth and pregnancy in Ireland and was entitled, ‘From the time of conception to the delivery of the patient’: pregnancy, childbearing, labour and lying-in in Ireland 1730-1850'. She intends to complete a PhD on a related topic.

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