John Martin Munro Kerr MD, L.L.D Glasg, F.R.F.P.S.,F.R.C.O.G. 1868-1960

Known as Munro Kerr, he had a glittering career which began with an education at Glasgow Academy and then Glasgow University from where he graduated MBChB in 1890 and MD in 1909.

Munro-Kerr chose to specialise in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and spent several post-graduate years studying in Dublin, Jena and Berlin before, in 1894 becoming assistant to The Regius Professor of Midwifery, Murdoch Cameron and then in 1900 taking up the post of visiting surgeon to the Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital or ‘Rottenrow’. 

In 1907, he took up an appointment as a gynaecological surgeon at the Western Infirmary in 1900 and in 1911, Munro Kerr became the first occupant of the Muirhead Chair of Midwifery and Gynaecology at Anderson Medical College, Glasgow. In 1927, he was appointed as Regius Professor of Midwifery at Glasgow University and held this post until his retirement in 1934. On his retirement from the teaching staff and after forty years’ service, the University conferred on him the honorary degree of L.L.D. He was a leading authority in his specialty and authored several books include Operative Obstetrics (1908), The Combined Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (1923) and Maternal Mortality and Morbidity (1933). He was awarded the Katherine Bishop Harman prize for his monograph on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity.

Munro Kerr chose his specialty at a time when childbirth was hazardous, particularly for women from deprived areas where malnutrition and insanitary living conditions increased the risk of infection and of death. He witnessed some of the first caesarean operations performed in Scotland (Murdoch Cameron performed the first at Rottenrow on 10th April 1888) and directed his efforts towards improving the safety of the operation. In the early 1920s only a few younger surgeons in Glasgow and Edinburgh were conducting the operation and by the 1930s it was still rarely performed in England. It was not until after WW2, in 1949, that the caesarean section was finally accepted, universally, as a safe and essential procedure to ensure the lives of many mothers and their babies.

At the first post-war obstetrical congress, after several speakers had provided evidence that the caesarean section was indeed safe, Munro Kerr was unexpectedly called to address the conference. He threw up his arms and loudly cried “Hallelujah! The battle’s o’er; the victory’s won!”

Munro Kerr was one of the founders of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and and was its first vice president between 1929 and 1932. In 1948 when the college was granted a royal charter, honorary fellowship was conferred upon him. From 1933 to 1936, Munro Kerr served as president of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow. In 1950 he was the first recipient of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Blair-Bell medal.

Following his retirement, he moved to Canterbury and during WW2 he acted as medical superintendent to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Well into old age he continued to contribute to medical journals and he also wrote reminiscences and medical sketches. In 1956 he travelled back to Glasgow to deliver the first William Hunter memorial lecture at the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons.

Friends and colleagues described Munro Kerr as a natural leader blessed with a great personality and a sense of humour and a unique ability to inspire those around him.

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Courtesy of Douglas Mack