Celebrating 90 years of annual conferences

The first annual meeting of the British Paediatric Association took place 90 years ago this weekend. The meeting was a celebration of the beginning of the Association and gave members the opportunity to share knowledge and meet others in the same specialty.
Formal photo of the members at the first general meeting of the BPA

Scientific communications should be spoken, not read.

After an inaugural meeting held in February 1928 that had an attendance of just six, the first members of the BPA arranged a meeting for other paediatricians in the UK.

Secretary Donald Paterson sent a questionnaire to doctors specialising in child health asking firstly if they would join the Association, then whether they would be able to attend the meeting and if they would present a paper to other attendees.

The BPA’s First Annual Scientific Meeting was held on 4 and 5 May 1928 at Windermere, Cumbria. It was held there almost exclusively for the first 30 years until membership became too large to be accommodated. The Old England Lake Hotel provided the perfect setting, and doctors had the opportunity to leave their cities to spend a few days in the country. Windermere had such an impact on the Association that it has been commemorated since 1948 in the Windermere Lecture which is still awarded every two years, usually to an overseas paediatrician. 

Agenda of the first AGM of the BPA
Agenda for the first Annual Meeting of the British Paediatric Association

The original rules of the BPA, drafted at the meeting held in February, stated there would be a meeting held every year around Easter in order to elect Officers and members, present accounts, and select a location for the next meeting. It was also an opportunity to discuss scientific business as members strongly agreed that “Scientific communications should be spoken, not read.” In the early years, the meeting was the only contact with the Association for many members.

At the first meeting in 1928, 23 of the 48 attendees gave ten-minute-long scientific papers that were discussed over three sessions: 10:00 and 20:30 on Friday 4 May, and 10:00 on Saturday 5 May. Topics included the control of infectious diseases in children, coeliac disease and allergies, rheumatic fever, corporal punishment in schools, protein requirements of infants, and impulses and obsessions in childhood. The proceedings and abstracts of the meeting were published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, something that has continued to the present day. 

Until the 1940s, presidents of the BPA held their position for one year, so a new leader was elected at the Annual Meeting. The Executive Committee and officers for England, Scotland and Ireland were also elected.

Signatures of members present at first AGM
Signatures of those who attended the first meeting

It wasn’t all work though: Friday afternoon was free for activities, such as fishing, tennis and boating on Windermere Lake, and a dinner was held in the evening. Windermere also boasted an 18-hole golf course on site for use by members of the Association.

When the BPA became a Royal College, the name was changed from the Annual Meeting to the Spring Meeting, and in 2010, it became the Annual Conference. There are a number of traditions that continue from the first meeting to the present day. New presidents and officers take up their positions following the Conference, and there is still a mix of scientific presentations and social activities.

After 90 years, the Conference is still an opportunity for paediatricians to get together in different parts of the country to discuss science, and the original aims to advance the study of paediatrics and promote friendship are still fundamental in the Conference today.

To find out more about the history of the College and its archive, contact Kate Veale, College Archivist at kate.veale@rcpch.ac.uk.