::Book Review:: A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich



A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812

“Between 1785 and 1812 a midwife and healer named Martha Ballard kept a diary that recorded her arduous work (in 27 years she attended 816 births) as well as her domestic life in Hallowell. Maine...”

I had a couple of vague expectations about this book before I started reading it – namely, that it would merely be the exact diary, transcribed, and that it would be an early treatise on midwifery. I was wrong, but I wasn't disappointed. Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has put an incredible amount of effort into this Pulitzer prize-winning work, which delves into the world of early 19th century Maine – its medical practices, local religious and political platforms, family and community life, and more. Although each chapter contains a few entries from Martha Ballard's diary, transcribed with her exact spelling and grammar, it is the exquisitely-researched commentary that really provides the interesting reading.

Throughout the book I learned so much about what life was like in that time and place, and the ways in which women maintained their businesses of healing and midwifery. The social commentary, the observances of how men and women related to each other, and the extra details regarding scandals and events of the day were always interesting and well backed-up with research and citations.

Martha Ballard herself really comes to life through the book, despite her short entries devoid of detail, thanks to the author's painstaking study. She's a shrewd, practical woman of faith, who knows her craft backward and forward and has a strong sense of propriety, as you can see in her dry commentary on scandals and unwillingness to participate in gossip, slander or idle chatter. We also learn that she was a relative of Clara Barton, another important woman in American history.

I think this book is a real gem for anyone interested in American history, women's studies and of course early midwifery and medicine. You can get a copy



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