Dr. M’Gonigle – The Housewives Champion

Dr. M’Gonigle – The Housewives Champion

In the days before the National Health Service Dr. M’Gonigle worked for Stockton Council and was labelled ‘The Housewives Champion’ for his work in studying malnutrition and poverty.

George Cuthbert Mura M’Gonigle was born in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland in 1889. He trained at Newcastle Medical School, graduating from Durham University in 1910. He was a School Medical Officer for County Durham before serving in the First World War. In 1924 he was appointed Medical Officer of Health and School Medical Officer for Stockton-on-Tees.

In the years following the end of the First World War much effort had been made by national and local governments to improve public health. In the days before the introduction of the  National Health Service Dr. M’Gonigle fought hard to maintain the health of the poor people of Stockton who could not afford to go to a doctor.  A contemporary of M’Gonigle was Harold Macmillan whose own career was influenced by the poverty he had seen in Stockton.

At that time great efforts were being made to move people out of the insanitary Victorian slums where infant mortality and Pulmonary Tuberculosis were rife. As medical officer, M’Gonigle played his part in advocating, and facilitating, the movement of families from these central Stockton slums to new housing.

This new housing, however, did not bring the anticipated benefits to public health.  At first M’Gonigle could not understand why the mortality rates were rising in communities that had been moved out of disease ridden slums into the new housing stock. His research revealed that the higher rents charged to the families who had been moved to this new housing meant that many of them were suffering from acute malnutrition. In effect, the higher rents meant that these families had less money to spend on food and this was causing many of them to die prematurely.

His work struck a chord and his findings influenced housing policy both nationally and internationally and undoubtedly the lives of many thousands of people were saved by his work and was named the ‘Housewives Champion’. A short film bearing the title ‘One Man’s Story’ was made in 1948, a fitting tribute to a man who did so much for Stockton and the the wider world.

M’Gonigle died of pneumonia in 1939, he is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Norton.

Did you know… M’Gonigle was given a second nickname by the people of Stockton, ‘The Cigarette Card King’, as he used to distribute cards from his cigarette packets to the children on his rounds, which of course would be frowned upon by public health officials today!