Women in Practice: Midwife Series Part 3/4

Today, Laurie Alice Eakes continues her four-part series on her research into midwifery. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 by following the links.

The following is 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.

*Originally posted March, 2011.*
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Since Laurie Alice Eakes lay in bed as a child telling herself stories, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with more than two dozen books in print and several award wins and nominations to her credit, including winning the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency and being chosen as a 2016 RITA®

She has recently relocated to a cold climate because she is weird enough to like snow and icy lake water. When she isn’t basking in the glory of being cold, she likes to read, visit museums, and take long walks, preferably with her husband, though the cats make her feel guilty every time she leaves the house.

You can read more about Eakes and her books, as well as contact her, through her website.

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