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Diary of a Midwife

FairerScience friend Kathryn Campbell-Kibler introduced me to this fascinating website . Martha Ballard was a New England healer and a midwife who started a diary when she was 50 and wrote in her diary nearly every day from January 1, 1785 to May 12, 1812.

There is a book and it is a good one, but it's the website you want to play with. The authors have both transcribed the diary and put up the original transcript. You can roll over a section of the original writing and see the transcription and even try to transcribe yourself (I failed). And of course you can search it. Technically it is cool.

Content wise it is even more interesting. Do you want learn about the use of herbs in healing during that time like Burdock to "sooth the stomach" or Culpeper to "staunch inward or outward bleedings" including "too abundant women's courses."? You can either search yourself or read the summaries and analysis the researchers have already done.

You can also read about midwifery and the transition to "man-midwives" and the changing of the view of birth as natural to something in need of intervention.

Want to just get a taste? Read "Some Stories and Themes from the Diary"

Premarital Pregnancy

Sally had worked for Martha and became pregnant with Jonathan Ballard's child while unmarried. Sally confessed to fornication and named Jonathan as the father of her unborn child, the first step in suing for child support. The child, Jonathan, Jr., was born in January. At the height of labor, the midwife, Martha Ballard, asked the mother to name the father of her child. Sally swore it was Jonathan. This was the legal custom and appears to have taken place, again at the woman's request, as the next step in obtaining child support. It was thought that a woman would not tell an untruth at the height of travail.

It's like a guilt free, true, soap opera with science and feminist themes. What could be better?


Oh, awesome! Thanks so much for this link--I read the book some years ago and loved it--it's so cool to see it all available now!

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