FIGO has grown from an organisation representing 42 national societies - who attended the founding meeting on 26 July 1954 in Geneva, Switzerland - into a truly global organisation.
Professor Hubert de Watteville, born and educated in Berne, Switzerland (1907-1984), was the ‘founding father’ of FIGO, a charismatic figure, highly regarded as a gynecologist and obstetrician by many domestic and foreign patients, including celebrities. His work concentrated on endocrinology and on psychosomatics in gynecology.
His compassionate interest in improving the healthcare for women and children in the Third World engaged his energies to the end ...
R Borth, a close collaborator of de Watteville in Geneva, wrote (1993):
‘In remembering him, Renaissance man is the first expression that comes to mind. Besides his professional skills, he had a wide range of interests, knowledge and insights - science, music, fine arts, and politics. Conversation with him on almost any subject was always captivating and often rewarding.
‘While joking that he was the first member of his family with a decent job (his father Moritz von Wattenwyl was colonel in the Swiss army), he was proud of his background, and enjoyed his role in international organizations and societies, but his personal lifestyle remained simple and unassuming.'
In 1978, De Watteville himself described the process of the foundation of FIGO as follows:
‘Before the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics was created, international congresses had been held in 1898 in St Petersburg and 1938 in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam it was decided to hold another world congress in 1942 in Berne, Switzerland, but World War II made it impossible. In May 1950, Professor Fred Adair from Chicago and Professor Howard C Taylor Jr from New York organized a congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology in New York that was attended by a great number of foreign guests. This congress was the last in a series of congresses held in the United States by Dr Adair under the auspices of the American Committee on Maternal Welfare (the forerunner of ACOG), and was designed by him as the Fourth American and the First International Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. During this congress it was decided to create an International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. This federation was to organize world congresses at regular intervals, with the first to be held in 1954, if possible, in Switzerland. The foundation meeting of FIGO was to take place at this 1954 congress. Dr F L Adair (USA) and Dr H C Taylor (USA), Dr L Gérin - Lajoie (Canada), Dr F Ch van Tongeren (The Netherlands) and I (H de Watteville, Switzerland) were asked to prepare a draft constitution. The Swiss Society of Gynecology accepted the responsibility of organizing the World Congress, chose Geneva as the site, and nominated me as the president of the Congress.’
De Watteville died on 14 February 1984 in Geneva.
Since 1991, FIGO World Congresses have held a special De Watteville Lecture, organised jointly between FIGO and the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS).
(Source: ‘The History of FIGO on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, July 25-30, 2004’)
Foundation meeting, 1954
Hubert de Watteville: sketch drawn during the first Congress, Geneva 1954