Monday, March 7, 2011

Women in Practice: Midwife Series Part 3/4

Today, Laurie Alice Eakes continues her four-part series on her research into midwifery.

(Redacted from “Women of Power” written for and presented by Laurie Alice Eakes at the 1999 New Concepts in History conference.)

In writings such as Martha Ballard’s journal, and in advertisements for their services, midwives referred to their work as their “practice” as would any professional healer.


“Ann Anmes, Lately arrived from England, is requested to practice Midwifery in this city, as she is informed many of the most experienced Midwives are infirm, and aged, and cannot attend with that assiduity, as so important an affair requires.”
In England, several midwives extended their professionalism through writing books on the art of midwifery, presiding over the childbed of queens, and campaigning for regulated midwifery colleges. Their work exemplifies education, independence, and most importantly, professionalism. Jane Sharpe, a seventeenth century midwife practitioner of thirty years, wrote in the introduction to her book,

Sisters,--I have often sat down sad in consideration of the many miseries women endure in the hands of unskillful midwives; many professing the art (without any skill in anatomy which is the principal part effectually necessary for a midwife) merely for lucre’s sake.”

Elizabeth Cellier, a midwife to the wife of James II, campaigned for a midwifery college and licensure for practitioners. Her own dubious reputation resulting from trials for treason and libel, worked against her, and nothing came of her scheme. After her death, papers emerged that outlined a system of standardized education for midwives and payment for licenses to give those practitioners the right to employ their art.

In the first half of the eighteenth century, Mrs. Sarah Stone, first of Taunton, then Bristol, also wrote a book on midwifery. She had learned the art from her mother and passed it on to her daughter. In her writings, Mrs. Stone expressed that a midwife should serve no less than three years of an apprenticeship under another skilled midwife, and that seven years would be better.

These women had precedents for desiring regulation of their profession. As early as the 1450’s in the Low Country and several German cities, midwives were regulated through training by doctors and licensing by the municipal government. Under the Tudor monarchs, English midwives began to form a regulation for midwives under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. Midwives were supposed to present statements of their good character and their skill to a bishop, pay a fee for their license, then take a lengthy oath.


Midwives historic role in society began to fascinate Laurie Alice Eakes in graduate
school. Before she was serious about writing fiction, she knew she wanted to write novels
with midwife heroines. Ten years, several published novels, four relocations, and a
National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency later, the midwives idea returned, and
Lady in the Mist was born. Now she writes full time from her home in Texas, where she
lives with her husband and sundry dogs and cats.

          Laurie Alice Eakes--Lady in the Mist from Revell Books, February, 2011. Read an Excerpt

1 comment:

  1. Laurie, What you've discovered about these women amazaes me.