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A Midwife's Tale, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich - review

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A Midwife's Tale, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, is a historical monograph that follows the life of Martha Ballard based on her diary entries from 1785 to 1812. Martha was a midwife, who resided in Hallowell, Maine, and delivered 816 babies during her practice, from 1785 to 1812, which averaged forty births a year. Her diary opens for historians an unparalleled glimpse into the past in which they can relate its context to the larger themes occurring during the eighteenth-century. "Through the daily entries of the diary, we can see the eighteenth-century was a time not only of political revolution but also of medical, economic, and sexual transformation."1 "It was also an era where a new ideology of womanhood connected domestic virtue to the survival of the state."2 Martha's diary reveals what was lost and what was gained during the transformation of the eighteenth-century into the nineteenth-century. She illustrates the communion between women and men in the economy and the complimentary roles they played in order to sustain the town. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich interprets Martha's diary by researching a wide range of sources and puts it into a format in which we can easily read. Such sources used to reconstruct and support the events described in the historical monograph include, Sewall's diary, Ephraim Ballard's maps, wills, tax lists, deeds, court records, town-meeting minutes, medical treatises, novels, religious tracts, and fragmentary papers of Maine physicians.3 Ulrich organizes the book in a unique pattern. ...read more.


This statement reflects the shift of birthing into a male profession in which the midwife was primarily obsolete The historical monograph is very insightful but at times difficult to read until around the third chapter when the reader adapts to her format. One example of how the book flowed together while dividing into interchangeable paragraphs is in the first chapter on page forty. The first paragraph briefly examines Martha's duties as a midwife between August 3 and 24, 1787. She acted as not only a midwife, but also as a nurse, physician, mortician, and pharmacist while still being a devoted wife/mother. The second brief paragraph explains the importance of the entry. It reveals her connection of birth and death to ordinary life. In addition, it questions the value of the other medical records kept during the era, which have conflicting accounts. The final paragraph on the page explains the event that compelled the entries. Many children were getting sick and some died from the "canker rash". "Canker rash", which is referred today as "strep throat", may have turned into scarlet fever causing some children to die. By breaking up the historical importance of the diary entry on the era and the underlying circumstances that are happening in the town, the reader is not only captivated by facts, but also seduced further into the book. ...read more.


I am compelled, as a reader, to put Martha's diary above all other works we have read because they all seem to originate from the pages of her diary but lacking the substance only the women of the era could fulfill, thus leaving a reader with a prescription rather then a description. In conclusion, though an unusual format, the author maintains the readers' attention while addressing various issues that women faced during the eighteenth century, and thus fulfills her thesis in an entertaining approach for the reader. The historical monograph is a unique view of the turmoil during the era while giving insight into the many true duties of women. The author turned history into life, letting the reader walk the footsteps of a midwife and taste the eighteenth century as a whole instead of a selected slice. 1 A Midwife's Tale, p. 27. Also see Oxford Vital Records, p.82 2 A Midwife's Tale, p. 27. Also see Church Records of the First Church in Augusta, South Parish Congregational Church, Augusta, pp. 100-101. 3 A Midwife's Tale, p. 34 4 A Midwife's Tale, p. 34 5 A Midwife's Tale, p. 33 6 Knight, Sarah Kemble, copyright 1999 Encylopedia Britannica, Inc. 7 Based on the book "The History of Women in America" by Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman ...read more.

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