Seminar 2: Richard Titmuss and the origins of social medicine

Richard Titmuss and the origins of social medicine

The second HSMT seminar of Hilary Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 23rd January (Week 2) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by John Stewart.

John Stewart is a Research Associate here in the Wellcome Unit, whose research interests range broadly across modern British history. In particular, his work has focused on the history of health care provision and social policy, with an associated emphasis on the history of child welfare. Specific research topics have included: municipal medicine in inter-war England and Wales; child evacuation policies in wartime Scotland; and welfare provision in ‘peripheral’ areas of the United Kingdom and Europe. He is currently writing a biography of Richard Titmuss for the London School of Economics, as the LSE Library holds an extensive collection of Titmuss’s papers and of a number of his close colleagues and associates.

Richard Titmuss is perhaps best known as the first Professor of Social Administration at the London School of Economics (LSE). He was appointed to this post in 1950 and held it until his death in 1973 during which time he developed, initially single-handedly, the academic field of social administration/policy. He also held many official positions and advised the Labour Party on welfare issues. However prior to his LSE appointment Titmuss was seen, and regarded himself, as an expert on population and population health. This seminar examines his (erroneous) belief that the British population was about to decline and, more importantly, his analysis of the health of that population through which he showed that rates of morbidity and mortality were crucially shaped by environment and socio-economic circumstance. So, for instance, in the 1930s the infant mortality rate was significantly higher in the industrial North of England than in the affluent South East and, relatively speaking, this situation was worsening rather than improving. It is thus argued that Titmuss was instrumental, in the period from around 1935 to around 1945, in shaping the emerging field of social medicine, a field concerned with social rather than individual pathology. Titmuss published extensively in this area and the seminar draws on works such as his book Birth, Poverty and Wealth (1943) and on the numerous articles he wrote for journals such as The Lancet and The Spectator.

We have two of Stewart’s own published works here in the Unit library, which are of relevance to his seminar. Child guidance in Britain, 1918-1955 : the dangerous age of childhood (HV751.A6 STE 2013) is a history of the child guidance literature from its origins post-World War I until the consolidation of the welfare state. The concepts widely used in this guidance played a part in broader social and cultural perceptions of the healthy emotional development of a child. His earlier work, ‘The battle for health’ : a political history of the Socialist Medical Association, 1930-51 (RA413.5.G7 STE 1999) is a scholarly study of the Labour Party-affiliated Socialist Medical Society, founded in 1930, whose aim was a free, comprehensive and universal state medical service.

Child guidance

Battle for guidance









Richard Titmuss himself published a number of titles, many of which we hold. One that the seminar will focus on is Birth, poverty and wealth : a study of infant mortality (HB1323.I4 TIT 1943), a study of the inequalities between the economic classes of England and Wales. Titmuss concludes that such inequalities increased steadily in the first half of the twentieth century, and that maternal and infant welfare services had proved inadequate to the problems they were designed to solve. A broader work of Titmuss’ is Social policy : an introduction (HV31 TIT 1974), based on the introductory letters Titmuss delivered to students at the London School of Economics. The work explores the wide range of social, medical and economic changes in society which generate social problems, and analyses the implications of different solutions.

Birth, poverty

Social policy









As an influential and sometimes controversial figure in public heath, we also hold titles written about Titmuss, after he died. David Reisman’s Richard Titmuss : welfare and society (HN16 REI 1977) seeks to explain and evaluate Titmuss’ work, concluding that his model of social welfare was the best of its time. Richard Morris Titmuss, 1907-1973  (HN16 GOW 1975) is a short pamphlet by Margaret Gowing published soon after his death that serves as a very brief memoir of his life. It gives an idea not only of his work, but also his personality:

“He had an inexhaustible fund of kindness and friendship and treated everyone alike, with real interest and consideration; he was available to all and was the most patient of listeners.”











Works on Social Sciences are generally classified under the shelfmark H. Social history and conditions, social problems and social reform come under HN, while Social and Public Welfare are HV. More relevant works will be found in these areas of the library.

Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!

Header image: Richard Titmuss (