Learning from the past

Last modified on 05/10/2018

One of the joys I have is working closely with the BDA’s unofficial (and deeply passionate) archivist, Edith Elliot. Edith was Chairman between 1985 and 1987 and is still a main point of contact for the BDA office when we have questions only experienced BDA members can answer, Edith is usually one of the first ports of call!

Over the past few months Edith has been joined by Norma Lauder (Chairman from 1978 to 1979) who has also assisted with the archiving of our Trade Union legacy. The point of the archive is to create a searchable database for anyone wanting to know about the profession and its development from 1936 onwards. The current archive is being created and sent to the Wellcome Trust which is one of the lead archiving institutions in the world and are committed to ensuring the BDA’s history is catalogued and preserved for future generations.

My recent call to the membership to send in any literature, articles, photos (or indeed anything of interest and relevant to the history of the profession and dietetics) has been noticed and thank you to everyone who has contributed. However, we still welcome anything you think may be of interest, particularly related to food and diet around the two World Wars, information about the profession in its early years, or indeed information about any of the founders of the profession. Please contact me at the BDA office and I will be happy to work with you.

I thought, however, the following example shows how much of today’s thinking is based on the principles established some years ago. The annual Rose Simmonds Award is for a dietitian’s original published work and is one of the most prestigious awards we have. The award came about when members contributed to a fund to honour her memory. Rose was born in 1886 and originally a ‘sales woman and flower monitor’ before becoming a probationer nurse in 1909. In 1925, as a ward sister, she became one of the founding group of nurse-dietitians, from where many of the original profession came as the distinct role of dietitian did not exist at that point. In 1933 she was involved in the establishment of the first curricula for dietetics and was one of the founding members of the BDA in 1936.

Rose also wrote the ‘Manual of Nutrition for the British Red Cross’ in 1945. It was written to make nutrition and diet messages accessible for Red Cross volunteers and I bought a copy very recently. I quote (selectively) from her own words in 1945:

  • ‘All vegetables are good in the diet and should be eaten for at least two meals every day. They keep the body and skin in good condition. They influence growth and wellbeing.’
  • ‘Sedentary workers do not require so much energy forming food as those workers more actively employed. The energy requirements are in proportion to the expenditure of energy.’
  • ‘The body can be compared to a house or to a steam engine...it must have the correct amount of bricks and other materials...if the house is built of bad materials or by bad workmen it will soon fall to pieces…If the human body is built with the wrong foods it will deteriorate in the same way as the house.’
  • ‘The development of school meals should do much to encourage good feeding habits, which will undoubtedly have an important effect in improving the public health of the future’.

The Manual is a short booklet but if you have the chance to obtain one, you will find it fascinating and largely still relevant today. The messages are clear and straight forward. They are understandable by anyone. Unlike much of the conflicting and incorrect information circulating in the media. It seems society still has much to learn, although looking back to 1945 may provide some good hints!