How a pregnancy test saved the lives of a family in Nazi times

Susanne Krejsa MacManus explains how pregnancy testing saved the life of a refugee woman biochemist and her family in the run-up to World War II.

In the 1930s, the Institute of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh University was the only UK laboratory that ran pregnancy tests. Although the Aschheim-Zondek method invented in Berlin in the late 1920s had been seen as a great step forward, the result took more than 100 hours. It also required testing on female mice. No wonder that the scientific community was excited by a new method that took four hours.

Austrian biochemist Regina Kapeller-Adler had developed a method for detecting the amino acid histidine in the urine of pregnant women in 1933. As the Vienna Daily reported on 30 May 1933 under the heading “Eine neue Schwangerschafts-Reaktion” (a new pregnancy test): “The great advantage of this new chemical pregnancy test lies in the fact that it can be carried out in four hours, whereas the tool that has been most ideal for early diagnostics up until now […] requires a hundred hours until it can be read.”

The second advantage was that it employed a chemical instead of a biological reaction, and no mice had to be killed.

After Hitler occupied Austria (Anschluss) in March 1938, Regina, her medical doctor husband Ernst Adler and their young daughter Liselotte were in severe danger because they were Jewish. The Nazis persecuted Ernst Adler, and he escaped deportation to the Dachau concentration camp only at the very last moment. Regina lost her post at the Institute of Medical Chemistry at the University of Vienna; before that, she had also not been able to get her postdoctoral qualification – as a woman and a Jew.

When Francis Crew, Professor of Genetics at Edinburgh University, learned about the danger Regina and her family were in, he offered her a job in his laboratory, with support of The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (formed in 1933 in help refugee scientists and other academics).

There was still a problem to be solved: Britain only permitted entry for foreigners if there was a mandatory “guarantor” to vouch for them. Fortunately, Napoleon and Henrietta Ryder deposited the considerable amount of £50 for the Adler family whom they did not know personally, and little is known about this couple. Regina together with husband and daughter could leave Austria, even taking their furniture and his medical equipment with them.

In Britain

In January 1939, they reached London and journeyed on to Edinburgh. Within two months of their arrival in Scotland, she was demonstrating her pregnancy test at the Eleventh British Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. After the German invasion of Norway in 1940, most female foreign citizens were ordered to leave the east coast of Britain. Regina unusually received permission to remain in Edinburgh to continue her research since it was categorised as being of national importance. Ernst was interned on the Isle of Man from May to September 1940. After his release and re-qualification, he started a medical practice in Edinburgh in 1942.

In July 1941, Regina received her Doctor of Science degree from Edinburgh University. From the end of the war, she spent fruitful years in the Pharmacology Department of the university, and in 1952 she got her first university position as lecturer in the Department of Clinical Chemistry. From that time, she meticulously trained and encouraged a series of Ph.D. students, to whom she acted as mentor.

Regina gained recognition, grants and awards. She was internationally acclaimed as a major authority on histamine, which is made in the body and derived from histidine, and gallantly titled “The Histamine Queen” by her exclusively male colleagues in the field, an allusion to her forename. In June 1973, she was presented with the University of Vienna’s Golden Honorary Diploma. She died in Edinburgh on 31 July 1991 at the age of 91.

Kapeller-Adler’s method was an important step towards the modern pregnancy test, but it was not yet the final breakthrough. Not fully reliable on its own, it was used as an additional test or pre-test when standard tests did not give a clear yes-or-no answer.  Today, pregnancy tests detect the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which starts to be produced around 6 days after fertilisation. The results are available in a few minutes.

Acknowledgement and references

Information from this blog came direct from Liselotte Adler-Kastner, daughter of Regina Kappler-Adler and Ernst Adler. In addition, it refers to two articles that she wrote about her parents in “Visa to Freedom 1939 thanks to a Pregnancy Test”, Edinburgh Star 62, March 2009, 9-11, and “From personae non gratae in Vienna 1938 to respected citizens of Edinburgh: a vignette of my parents Dr Ernst Adler and Dr Regina Kapeller-Adler”, Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift (1998) 110/4-5: 174-180 (Viennese Clinical Weekly)

Further reading:

Interview with Liselotte Adler-Kastner at Refugee Voices.

Museum of Contraception and Abortion (MUVS)

Susanne Krejsa MacManus is an independent journalist, author and archivist in Vienna. She does research for the Museum of Contraception and Abortion (MUVS). Thanks go to Liselotte Adler-Kastner, Regina’s daughter.



Widowhood and Bereavement during and after the English Civil Wars

Recent estimates suggest that more than 3 per cent of the population of England and Wales died as a direct result of the Civil Wars of 1642–1651. Andrew Hopper describes his work on the widowhood and bereavement of the more than 180,000 women who had lost a male relative.

Deaths in Britain and Ireland during their mid-seventeenth-century Civil Wars represent a greater proportional loss of population than Britain suffered during World War One. On a free website, The Civil War Petitions Project publishes details of subsequent petitions to the state from veterans and their families for welfare payments as a result of injuries and bereavement sustained during those wars.

This image shows mounted troops at the Battle of Nasby but also a dead soldier in armour - many men died.

The Battle of Nasby was fought on 14 June 1645 during the First British Civil War. It was an important victory for the Parliamentarians. National Army Museum collection

I am currently analysing the findings of this project for a book that will illuminate the experiences of those bereaved by the civil war, with a particular focus on war widows, orphans and bereaved families, based on the petitions.

This is possible because soon after the outbreak of civil war, Parliament’s ordinance of 24 October 1642 confirmed that not just Parliament’s wounded soldiers, but also the widows and orphans of those who gave their lives for the parliamentary cause would be entitled to apply for monetary relief. A series of further ordinances followed in 1647 that prompted women to petition for state pensions in their thousands.

Securing such provision became more difficult after the Restoration in 1660 when most royalist war widows who were granted relief received one-off gratuities rather than regular pensions. The right to state pensions for all British war widows was not restored until 1901. The records of the 1640s and 1650s therefore represent a unique opportunity to investigate attitudes towards war-related welfare at a time when at least some within the governing regimes considered such women to be part of the political nation.

A first national study

This will be the first national study of seventeenth-century military welfare, drawing on the project team’s research conducted in nearly all the county record offices in England and Wales. It will measure the success of women, children and families in obtaining relief and subsisting compared with that of their fellow petitioners among wounded servicemen.

The book will begin with a social profile of civil-war widowhood and then develop into a wider cultural history of widowhood and bereavement. It will compare the variety of experiences of the war widows of the middling and poorer sorts such as Elizabeth Alkin, nicknamed ‘Parliament Joan’, with those of much higher social status such as Katherine, Lady Brooke.

I will also examine how war widows remembered the conflict, and how this may have differed from more ‘official’ or state-sanctioned memories found in proclamations, thanksgivings, sermons and anniversaries. By looking beyond 1660 and embracing the twin themes of welfare and memory, the book will show how the consequences of the Civil Wars persisted for generations after armed hostilities had come to an end.

Andrew Hopper Professor of Local and Social History at the University of Oxford Department of Continuing Education and the author of Widowhood and Bereavement during and after the English Civil Wars. He and his colleague, Departmental Lecturer Dr Ismini Pells, will present Medical Care and Military Surgery during the British Civil Wars: The Civil War Petitions Project at the BSHM Congress taking place from 13-16 September in Cardiff.

Poor law but better care

Graham Kyle explains that a surprising benefit of the harsh Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 was that paupers in the workhouse received free medical care. Perhaps even more unexpectedly, the care had to come from qualified medical practitioners.

Near where I live near Llanfyllin in North Wales, there is a fairly well preserved workhouse that was established under the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.  A group of volunteers who worked hard to save it from dereliction also assisted the National Archives transposing the correspondence between the local Board of Governors in Llanfyllin and the Poor Law Commissioners in London.

These records are now online and give a wonderful insight into human interactions between ‘the poor’ and those charged with looking after them, as well as the relationships between the central and local governing bodies.

Before 1834, the poor were the responsibility of each parish. The 1834 Act encouraged parishes to amalgamate so that they could afford to build workhouses where people would be sent to undertake menial and boring tasks, such as oakum picking, stone breaking or bone crushing, in return for food and shelter.

This aerial view of  Llanfyllin Workhouse or Y Dolydd, as it became, shows the four separate yards for men, women, boys and girls, each overlooked by the central master’s house, so that any misbehaviour could be quickly checked.

Medical care from medical men

It was policy to make these workhouses uninviting to encourage people to be self-sufficient and avoid them. The food was plain and monotonous, and the accommodation was intentionally made “less amenable than a labourer’s cottage.” Another harsh part of the regime was that families were split up.

A benefit that paupers did gain from the 1834 Act was free medical care, which previously would have been well beyond their means. The local Board(s) of Guardians, being keen to keep costs down, initially appointed men of doubtful skill or training – “lads who had worked in a druggists’ shop for a short while” to provide the health care. However, the Poor Law Commission quickly insisted that only qualified “medical men” could act as medical officers, and in 1842 further stipulated that Poor Law medical officers should have qualifications in both medicine and surgery.

Why they insisted on the dual qualification in medicine and surgery is not clear, although their report stated the reason was that “skill in one branch does not guarantee skill in the other.”  This preceded a similar requirement for admission to the Medical Register by decades. Thus, the pauper had the potential for a higher standard of medical care than the general public, albeit effective therapies were few at the start.

Effectiveness of treatments generally changed especially with the introduction of vaccination for smallpox. When the Government made this mandatory in 1853, they used the Poor Law Medical System as the basis for the roll out of the programme…to use a modern idiom.

An end to the Poor Law

The Poor Law continued until 1930 when the Poor Law Board became the Local Government Board, which took over responsibility for welfare. The Llanfyllin Workhouse had become formally known as the Llanfyllin Public Assistance Institution, although a decade earlier the name had been changed to “Y Dolydd”, Welsh for “The Meadows” in an effort to soften its image. It became essentially an old people’s home, with the former workhouse infirmary providing beds for local general practitioners until the late 20th century.


When the Local Government Board took over responsibility for welfare, workhouses were often adapted for use in other care settings.

Other workhouses became part of hospitals, such as Kensington Workhouse (above), which was eventually incorporated into St Mary Abbot’s Hospital.   Lezan, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Further reading

Hodgkinson, R. G., Poor Law Medical Officers of England: 1834-1871. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 11 (3) 1956 pp. 299-338


Graham Kyle is the President of the History of Medicine Society of Wales and a retired ophthalmic surgeon.

Robert Drane – a leader of pharmaceutical education in Wales, antiquarian and naturalist

Having never visited Wales before, 22 year old Robert Drane moved to Cardiff on 8 February 1856, and the history of pharmacy – and pharmacy education – in Cardiff are very much tied up with him.  Briony Hudson explains.

A contemporary described Drane as “a young man with a charming manner, a striking appearance and a vocabulary and diction that are the possession of but a few of the world’s geniuses.” He had, however, departed abruptly from the respected London firm of Allen & Hanburys after breaking house rules in the respected Quaker-run establishment by staying out after 11 pm and going to the theatre.

Drane first became assistant to the apothecary Griffith Phillips on Duke Street, Cardiff, but two years later, he moved to his own pharmacy at 11 Bute Street, Cardiff. In 1867, aged 34, he opened new, purpose built premises at Crockherbtown (renamed Queen Street in 1886), close to Cardiff Castle.

At that time, those wanting to make or sell medicines usually undertook an apprenticeship with an established chemist, as Drane had done. The Pharmaceutical Society, founded in London in 1841, had established a register of members, but it was voluntary. The Society also opened its School of Pharmacy, the first in the country, at its Bloomsbury Square, London, headquarters in 1842.

There were no pharmacy schools in Wales, although the Pharmaceutical Society and its London school had a Welsh presence from the start in the person of Theophilus Redwood from Boverton, Glamorgan, as the first professor of pharmacy, a post he held until 1885.

The Pharmacy and Poisons Act

Robert Drane as an older man- a photo from the Cardiff Naturalists' Society

In 1868, Parliament passed The Pharmacy and Poisons Act that required those wanting to practise as pharmacists to register with the Pharmaceutical Society in order to be able to dispense particular scheduled drugs, such as opium and strychnine. This Pharmaceutical Society register was then only open to those that had passed its minor or qualifying examination. Pharmacists, like Drane, who had been in business before 1868, were able to join the register without jumping this educational hurdle.

Drane called on the three other pharmacists in Cardiff in an attempt to produce some formal training in chemistry, pharmacy and botany for their assistants. His cooperative scheme intended that there would be nothing to pay, and the assistants would meet two nights a week to learn chemistry and pharmacy. They would also join Drane in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff’s first public park, adjacent to Cardiff Castle, at 7am on two mornings a week to learn botany, a class that he had already instituted soon after settling in Cardiff.

According to Drane’s later account, the scheme fell through because of the “indolence of the assistants” and “the ignorance of the pharmacists.” Despite this, his efforts had laid the foundation for pharmaceutical education in South Wales.

Aspiring pharmacists in South Wales had to wait for local technical education to provide what was missing. Cardiff Borough Council had begun running science and art classes in 1866, but it seems that formal pharmaceutical education in South Wales was unavailable until the establishment of a College of Pharmacy in Cardiff in 1919, five years after Drane’s death in 1914.

In addition to pharmacy, Drane had a strong interest in ceramics and co-wrote a history of the ceramic factories of Swansea and Nantgarw. He is also considered to be the founding father of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, which was established in his shop at 16 Queen Street, in 1867, according to many documented sources.

In 1927, the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society unveiled a plaque in his memory on the front of Drane’s shop in Queen Street (below).

The plaque commemorating Robet Drane as a naturalist, antiquary and connoisseur.

Briony Hudson, director of Amersham Museum, is a pharmacy historian, Honorary Lecturer at the Cardiff University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and author of the publication that marked its centenary in 2019. This article is based on her presentation on the history of pharmacy education in Cardiff to the History of Medicine Society of Wales summer meeting on 29 June 2023.

With thanks to the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society for the photographs. See the Society’s web site for more information on Drane’s many interests.

Consulting the past to understand the future: a military surgery perspective

Evidence suggests that far from being quacks and uneducated butchers, early modern surgeons were capable and undertook effective procedures, according to Stephen Rutherford.

In January 1699, the General Quarter Sessions at Doncaster heard the petition of James Moore of Letwell, West Riding of Yorkshire. James was nearly 80 and reported that while fighting for the King in the Civil Wars, he had “received many wounds in his head, especially one by a pistoll shott w[hi]ch bullet doth sitt in his neck, w[hi]ch is very apparent to be seene w[hi]ch is both painefull & very troublesome”.

These wounds dated from the battle of Marston Moor, 55 years earlier, yet James had survived not only the battle, but also had lived a further five decades with his injuries. Another petition presented to the Trinity Quarter Sessions of Northamptonshire in 1674, referred to the battlefield injuries of William Sudbury of Woodnewton, who had received “13 wounds in his head & body very dangerous, but also the fingers of one of his hands cut [off]”. Again, the petitioner had survived extreme wounds and ill-health, to bring his petition, over 25 years later. Even more extreme examples have been recorded.

Battle of Marston Moor 2 July 1644, John Barker (1811-1886) – Cheltenham Art Gallery and; Museums, Glos.

These examples show the extent to which severe wounds could be survived and suggest that early modern surgical practices were potentially successful against even quite extreme injuries. This is my main area of interest: investigating, and assessing the biomedical validity of, early modern surgical techniques – especially those of military surgeons. Many of the approaches these surgeons used are still in use in surgical practice, with remarkably little change.

Early modern surgeons had no understanding of (among others) germ theory, immunology, homeostasis, biochemistry and pharmacology, but through trial and error, these surgeons had an appreciation of what procedures minimised infection, gangrene, shock and sepsis, and how to promote recovery. It is possible to see the origins of many modern procedures in the published practices of these professionals. (Picture: 17th century flintlock pistol, Royal Armoury collection)

Medicine in war and conflict

The tagline of this year’s BSHM Congress, ‘Consult the past to understand the future’, is therefore particularly relevant to these studies. I am particularly excited by the programme of this year’s Congress, the organisation of which I have the privilege of supporting, as it will be held at my home institution, Cardiff University.

One of the three themes of the congress, Medicine in War and Conflict, is of particular interest to me. The examples mentioned above come from petitions identified by the Civil War Petitions Project , and two lead researchers of the project, Prof. Andrew Hopper and Dr Ismini Pells, will be the keynote speakers for the first day of the congress. The Civil War Petitions project provides an exceptional example of the value of consulting the past to understand the future.

The work of the project to identify, transcribe and share petitions from wounded soldiers and war widows across the British isles, has led to a better understanding of the experience of the general population after the civil wars. The project has also led to better understanding of medical procedures, the prevalence and survivability of wound types (including psychological trauma), the structure of local and county-level poor relief, court procedures, and even patterns of allegiance and civic memory within local communities.

Also of importance to the project’s findings are parallels between centralised support for soldiers and their families, compared to the experiences of military veterans and their families, and people with disabilities, today. Many of these outcomes were unintended consequences of scrutinising the petitions and show how consulting the past can lead to unexpected, yet valuable, new insights and understandings.

Steve Rutherford is Professor of Bioscience Education at the School of Biosciences, Cardiff University.

Further reading:

Three blogs of interest

  1. The physical impact of gunshot wounds in the British Civil Wars
  2. Wounds, battlefield trauma, and their survivability in the British Civil Wars
  3. The personal cost of war: injuries from firearms and their treatment during the Civil Wars

Rutherford, S.M. (2016) Ground-breaking pioneers or dangerous amateurs? Did early-modern surgery have any basis in medical science? In: Pells, Ismini, ed. New Approaches to the Military History of the English Civil War – Proceedings of the First Helion & Co. ‘Century of the Soldier’ Conference. Solihull: Helion and Co, 2016; pp. 151-183.