Featured Collection

Woman and child reading label on canSister Laura’s Infant Food Company Limited

Archive reference GD11

International Nurses’ Day on 12 May celebrates the birth of one of Britain’s most well-known nurses, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910).  She fought to improve the lives of her patients in hospitals and was greatly concerned with issues such as cleanliness and the importance of a nutritious diet. Glasgow, at the time that Florence Nightingale lived, was one of the biggest cities in Britain. It had high birth rates but also high death rates amongst babies and high levels of malnutrition in children. Conditions such as rickets were common.

One nurse who witnessed first-hand the effects that malnutrition had on children’s lives in Glasgow during that period was Sister Laura Mary Ann Smith. Born in Lancashire in 1865, Laura became a staff nurse at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Rottenrow, Glasgow in 1891. By 1897 she was in charge of the dispensary and undertook home visits in, what was then, one of the poorest parts of Glasgow, often providing food to the most malnourished children.

In 1898, moved by what she witnessed, she developed a powder which modified the casein in cow’s milk to make it easier for children to digest, particularly for those suffering from extreme malnutrition.  A large volume of milk could be modified with just a little powder and it was fairly cheap.  Using cow’s milk instead of water made her product different. She believed that:

“…the body building food given in their infancy is the foundation of their future health and happiness…”

And

“…undiluted cow’s milk is the only real substitute for mother’s milk.”

At the dispensary Sister Laura was at the front line with the mothers trying to tackle malnutrition. She was a respected nurse who helped many children in the Glasgow area and who was so affectionally well-known that she had a children’s ball game rhyme sung about her:

‘Sister Laura walks like this,

Pit a pat pat, pit a pat pat.’

On 27 July 1911 she created ‘Sister Laura’s Infant Food Company Limited’ along with Duncan MacGregor, a yarn merchant, Margaret Moore, a baker and confectioner (and who also manufactured the food at her bakery) and solicitor, William Christie. In 1920 the company was sold to Edward and William Watson who incorporated it into ‘Sister Laura’s Infant and Invalid Food Company Limited,’ based at Springfield Works in Bishopbriggs. It was then that Sister Laura’s connection to the company ceased although the company continued to trade until 1981. Laura remained the sister in charge of the dispensary until 1922 when she retired due to ill-health. Laura died in 1943.

East Dunbartonshire Archives holds the company collection at our Kirkintilloch branch. This includes corporate records, share records, finance records, administrative/production records and some wonderful publicity records. These include leaflets handed out to doctors and nurses, coupons for discounts and free samples, and counter advertisements extolling the virtues of Sister Laura’s powder. This collection would be of particular interest to students and researchers of history, medicine, advertising/marketing, and women’s history, although anyone is welcome to come and have a look at this fascinating collection.

Discover more by searching the itemised collection description on our online archive catalogue