- This article is about the memoir by Jennifer Worth. For information on the television series, visit Call the Midwife (series).
Call the Midwife (later called Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s) is a memoir by Jennifer Worth, and the first in a trilogy of books describing her work as a district nurse and midwife in the East End of London during the 1950s.
Jennifer wrote the book after retiring from a career as a musician, and it was originally published in July 2002. Reissued in 2007, it became a bestseller, as did the sequel Shadows of the Workhouse and the final volume Farewell to the East End. By the time of Jennifer Worth’s death in June 2011, her books had already sold almost a million copies.
In 2012, the popular BBC adaptation of the trilogy boosted sales further, and all four of the author's books about the East End (the "Midwife trilogy" and In the Midst of Life) went back into the charts.
The book is set in Poplar, in the East End of London, where Jenny Lee, Worth's maiden name, works as a midwife and district nurse, attached to a convent, Nonnatus House (a pseudonym for the Community of St. John the Divine, where Worth actually worked).
The story is split between chapters describing individual mothers and their often-traumatic deliveries, and more light-hearted incidents back at the convent. As well as the name of the convent, names of the characters are generally pseudonymous, with the exception of Cynthia, who remained a close friend of Jennifer Worth's in later life.
- Jennifer "Jenny" Lee, the author
- Jane, the extremely shy medical orderly
- Camilla "Chummy" Browne (née Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne), a very tall, upper-class young nurse
- Cynthia Miller, a kind and thoughtful young nurse
- Beatrix "Trixie" Franklin, a fun-loving young nurse
- Sister Julienne, the mother superior of the order of nuns
- Sister Evangelina, a rough-and-ready nun
- Sister Monica Joan, an elderly and eccentric nun struggling with the loss of an acute mind
- Sister Bernadette, a strict and dedicated midwife
- Novice Ruth, a young nurse and soon-to-be nun
Jennifer Worth wrote the book in response to an article by Terri Coates in the Royal College of Midwives Journal, which argued that midwives had been under-represented in literature and called on "a midwife somewhere to do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets". Jennifer wrote the first volume of her memoirs by hand and sent them to Coates to read, and Coates later served as advisor on the books and the TV adaptation.