Women to be Feared: Midwife Series Part 1/4

Laurie has saved her best information for the last post in her research into midwifery. If you’re writing historical fiction, what Laurie has revealed can add conflict to any manuscript if you have any issues central to this theme. You can find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 by following the links.

The following is redacted from “Women of Power” by Laurie Alice Eakes.

One of the reasons why midwives took an oath, the main reason why the licensure fell under the jurisdiction of the Church, was to prevent sorcery being used in the aid of childbirth.  In the event that the child died before, during, or soon after birth, midwives needed to baptize the child; thus a portion of their oath assured the Church that they would do so in a Christian manner.

By the mid seventeenth century, few midwives still performed baptisms; however, another part of their oath outlines their responsibility of learning the truth about who fathered the child being delivered.

Occasionally, women were called to testify in court for civil suits or to recount conversations they had heard or in which they had participated.  Midwives, however, were the only women who regularly appeared in court as witnesses and, in special cases, jurors.  Under both English and colonial laws, a midwife needed to learn the identity of a baby’s father.  Persons were fined for fornication, but the most important reason for the requirement was to determine who was responsible for supporting the child.  The custom was for the midwife to wait until the woman lay in the most intensive throes of labor, then ask the identity of the father, for the belief was that, due to pain and desire for aid, the woman would be compelled to tell the truth.  Martha Ballard notes thirteen such incidents in her diary.

Being the recipient of private information gave midwives unique power among and over their female peers.  Besides being called upon to testify in court regarding paternity and bastardy suits, an unscrupulous midwife could ruin a woman’s reputation with her knowledge.  Anne Johnson, a Maryland midwife, harassed her patient, Mary Taylor, into confessing an adulterous affair that resulted in a child.  Instead of going immediately to the courts as required, Mrs. Johnson waited several months during which time she attempted to obtain a bribe from Mary Taylor to keep silent about the matter.  When Mrs. Taylor physically and verbally attacked Mrs. Johnson, she went to the authorities.

A woman who failed to call a midwife and consequently bore a dead child, could be accused of infanticide. Courts assigned midwives to question women suspected of committing infanticide. Midwives examined the bodies of babies who were born in secret and died to determine whether the cause of death was natural or induced.

These posts only scratch the surface of the role of midwives in society. It is, and forever will be, a fascinating subject for me to continue to read about and explore as more and more documents from history come into my possession. If you want to read more, Google Books has a number of treatises for and by midwives. And I endeavored to cover some of the issues with which midwives dealt in my midwives series from Baker/Revell.

*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.

 

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.

Women of Authority: Midwife Series Part 2/4

Today, we’re continuing with Laurie Alice Eakes four part series on the historical aspects of midwifery. You can find Part 1 here.

Childbirth was more than a duty to God and husband.  Childbirth was a time when the woman was guaranteed attention in an atmosphere of “supreme drama”. Because, except in extreme cases, men were excluded from the birthing chamber, the laboring woman held the leading role with her friends, relatives, and neighbors as supporting actresses and, directing them all, was the midwife.

Well into the early modern era in Europe and throughout the American colonial period, women in religious orders and mistresses of the local manor performed the office of midwife as charitable work, but in the towns and villages, other women made a living presiding over childbirth.  More than likely, many of these women were unskilled practitioners, relying mainly on personal experience with childbirth or observation of other women’s labor. However, from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, when “man midwives”— physicians in obstetrical practice— became the reigning practitioners in the birthing chamber or hospital, midwives could and did consider themselves professionals.

 Unlike other members of their gender, midwives received wages and, through necessity, more often than not, worked outside the home.  Yet, unlike actresses, prostitutes, and domestic servants, midwives were respected, revered, and sometimes even feared members of society, giving them a power few of their peers realized.

In comparison with obituaries of good women at the same period, the death notices of midwives laud them as not merely exemplary human beings, but extol the virtues of their work and their benefit to their communities.  Mary Bradway of Pennsylvania and Lydia Robinson of Virginia were, according to their obituaries, exceptional women and midwives:

“Yesterday was interred here the Body of Mary Bradway, formerly a noted Midwife.  She was born on New-Years Day, 1629-30, and died on the second of January 1729-30; aged just One Hundred years and a day.  Her Constitution wore well to the last, and she could see to read without Spectacles a few Months since.”

“Last Sunday died here Mrs. Lydia Robinson, aged 70 years, who during her practice as midwife for 35 years past, delivered a number of women, in this and the neighboring towns, of Twelve Hundred children; and it is very remarkable that in the whole of her practice she never left one woman in the operation.  The death of a person so eminently useful is a very great loss to the public in general, and to this town in particular.”

Martha Ballard, made famous through Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s work with her diary, received only a one-line obituary.  Ulrich, however, quotes the eulogy of Jared Eliot, a Connecticut minister, delivered in 1739 on behalf of another midwife, Mrs. Elizabeth Smithson:

“The deceased was a true light upon a hill. She was a person of Humility, Affability, Compassion, and on whose Tongue was the Law of Kindness; Her Ear was open to the Complaints of the Afflicted, and her Hand was open for the Supply of the Needy.

As a Midwife, she was a person of Superior Skill and Capacity; as was found by Experience in the most difficult Cases ….

She regarded the Poor as well as the Rich ….

She denied herself both Sleep and rest, and spared neither Skill nor Pains for the Belief of those that were Afflicted and Distressed.”

*Originally posted February, 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.

 

Qualities of a Good Midwife: Part 1/4

I’m reposting Laurie Alice Eakes four part series on midwifery. Today, she’ll be focusing on the character of a good midwife.

Welcome, Laurie!

The following section is redacted from the presentation I made at the 1999 New Perspectives in History Conference.  For facility of reading, I have changed the arcaic spelling into modern spelling.

“As concerning their persons, they must be neither too young nor too old, but of an indifferent age, between both; well composed, not being subject to diseases, nor deformed in any part of their body; comely and neat in their apparel; their hands small and fingers long, not thick, but clean, their nails pared very close; they ought to be very cheerful, pleasant, and of a good discourse; strong, not idle, but accustomed to exercise, that they may be the more able if need require.

Touching their deportment, they must be mild, gentle, courteous, sober chaste, and patient; not quarrelsome nor chollerick; neither must they be covetous, nor report anything whatsoever they hear or see in secret, in the person or house of whom they deliver…

As concerning their minds, they must be wise and discreet; able to flatter and speak many fair words, to no other end but only to deceive the apprehensive women, which is a commendable deceipte, and allowed, when it is done, for the good of the person in distress.”

Thus did William Sermon, a seventeenth century physician and clergyman, describe the attributes of a good midwife.

Compared with the attributes of a good woman, described in the numerous pamphlets, obituaries, and epitaphs of the same time period, a midwife in Early Modern England and the North American colonies was expected to embody the traits of a good woman as well as the characteristics of a good professional.  Though one cannot expect that midwives met the standards Sermon, his peers, and other midwives set down for childbirth practitioners, through the nature of their work, and the standards set down through the ecclesiastical and municipal laws, and the expectations of other women, midwives achieved goals superior to the ideals of mere virtuous women.

In an age when women possessed little to no authority outside the home, the midwife achieved a position of power over other women and  within society itself.

Would you make the cut?

*Originally posted February, 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.

Oil of Sweet Vitriol: Ether and Chloroform

Today, we’re going historical and looking at the two first common general anesthetics that were used: ether and chloroform.

Ether was discovered in 1275. It was first synthesized by German physician Valerius Cordus in 1540. He named it “oil of sweet vitriol” which likely gives a clue to its odor. Other sources report ether’s odor as pungent, sweet, nauseating and fruity.

The first use of ether as an anesthetic occurred in 1842 by Dr. Crawford Williamson Long who used it to remove tumors from the neck of patient James Venable in Jefferson, Georgia. You may also see references that ether was used at the Ether Dome by William Thomas Green Morton who was a dentist that assisted surgeon John Collins Warren who also used it to remove a neck tumor. Now, it is largely recognized that Long should be credited with its first use.

Ether’s main drawback was its flammability. When the advent of using cauterizing tools came to fruition, you can see how setting fire to one’s patient during surgery would be considered poor form on the part of the doctor.

Chloroform was discovered in 1831 by James Young Simpson, a Scottish gynecologist and obstetrician, and was found efficacious in 1847. Chloroform was used widely until it was determined to be toxic to the kidneys and liver, but I did find a short note that perhaps chloroform was the preferred anesthetic in England. Chloroform is reported to have a “pleasant, non-irritating odor and slightly sweet taste”.

These agents, most likely ether in the US, were in use until the mid 1950’s when the non-flammable anesthetic agent halothane was discovered.

Do you have a historical medical scene using ether or chloroform?

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References:

Frontier Medicine by David Dary

Chloroform

Ether

Halothane

*Originally posted February, 2011.*

Plants: Poisons, Palliatives and Panaceas Part 2/2

Author Kathleen Rouser returns to discuss the historical use of plants for medicinal and not so medicinal purposes. You can find Part I here.

Plants: Poisons, Palliatives and Panaceas
Part II

 

Foxglove/Anne Burgess

From the Middle Ages onward, medicinal plants grown by wives and mothers for their families were referred to as “simples”. One of them, foxglove, had been used to treat many maladies, even tuberculosis. By itself, ingesting a single leaf of foxglove can cause immediate heart failure. But housewives learned how to use digitalis, the drug derived from foxglove, as a stimulant for the heart. By the late 18th century, an English doctor recorded that digitalis would strengthen an ailing heart. Today, digitalis is often prescribed to treat heart failure, regulating the heartbeat and strengthening the cardiac muscle.

 

Deadly Nightshade/David Hawgood

 

Another poisonous plant, deadly nightshade, grows berries that can be fatal if eaten. Larger pupils were considered more attractive during the Middle Ages, so drops of juice from this fruit were once used to dilate the pupils of young women. It was called “belladonna”, meaning “beautiful woman” in Italian. Today, atropine is produced from deadly nightshade, to dilate patients’ pupils, so eye care practitioners can further examine their eyes.

American frontier families carried dried simples, some of them familiar to us as food seasoning, such as marjoram or thyme. They believed tasty sassafras would purify or thin the blood.

A popular tonic once used by mothers and prescribed by doctors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was derived from the castor bean. A powerful laxative, castor oil cleansed the bowel, a treatment often used to cure whatever ailed you.
In ancient times Hippocrates warned against the use of opium, a painkiller made from the milky juice of poppies, because of its powerful addictive properties. This didn’t stop mankind from using it, whether to develop dangerous drugs such as heroin or pain relieving narcotics. In the 1660s, the English physician Thomas Sydenham produced laudanum from mixing opium with wine and saffron. This painkilling drug was used into the twentieth century. During the earlier 1800s, both the powerful narcotic morphine and the less potent codeine, were first made from opium extracts.

 

Willow Tree

As chemists learned how to extract and isolate chemicals in plants, they found just which components actually worked. German chemists were eventually able to analyze the bark of the willow tree. From ancient times extracts of willow bark had been used to reduce fever and relieve achiness, but not until 1899 was it known that the active ingredient was salicylic acid. Yet, decades passed before they figured out how this active ingredient, we know as aspirin, worked!

The shelves of our local health food stores are filled with herbs and ingredients made from many different plants. Some of these are based on folk remedies, proven successful throughout history, while others are yet unproven. Who doesn’t enjoy the soothing calm brought to one’s nerves through a cup of chamomile tea on a cold winter’s eve? Or settled an upset tummy with ginger ale or peppermint tea?  God knew what He was doing when He provided us with curative and nourishing plants—plants that we even derive many helpful and healing pharmaceuticals from today.

Thanks so much, Kathleen, and be sure to check out her forthcoming multi-author novel, The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection, releasing November, 2018

Plants: Poisons, Palliatives and Panaceas Part 2/2: Click to Tweet.

*Originally posted May, 2011.*

Resources:

Court, William E. “Pharmacy from the Ancient World to 1100 A.D.

Making Medicines: A Brief History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals. Ed. Stuart Anderson. London, UK: Pharmaceutical Press, 2005. 21-36. Print.

 

Facklam, Howard and Margery. Healing Drugs: The History of Pharmacy. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1992. Print.

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Kathleen lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of over 30 years. First, a wife and mother, she is “retired” after 20 years of home educating their three sons, who are all grown and have moved away.  Kathleen has been published in Home School Digest and An Encouraging Word magazines. She writes regularly for the local women’s ministry “Sisters” newsletter. She also contributes articles and author interviews to Novel PASTimes, a blog devoted mostly to historical fiction. You can connect with Kathleen via her website.

 

Plants: Poisons, Palliatives and Panaceas Part 1/2

I’m very pleased to host Kathleen Rouser as she guest blogs about her research into historical pharmacy.  This is excellent information for both the historical and contemporary writer. I know your plot wheels will turn with this information.

Welcome, Kathleen!

Plants: Poisons, Palliatives and Panaceas
Part I

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Gen. 1:29 NIV

 

Shortly after the time Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden, because of their fall into sin, human beings most likely began looking for relief from pain and sickness. Perhaps by God’s guidance or by what seemed like coincidence, they found that there were certain plants that not only nourished, but also relieved symptoms or cured illnesses.

Throughout the ancient world healers emerged, whether as a medicine man, priest, wise woman or physician. They were brave enough to search by trial and error to find the right cure for each malady. These practitioners, whether spurred on by superstition or curiosity, had to figure out which plants healed… and which ones harmed. The line between healing and poisoning was often quite fine.

A few of the remedies the Sumerians used were made from licorice, myrrh, mustard and oleander. The Code of Hammurabi, originating during his reign (1795-1750 BC), regulated medical practice. There, apothecaries emerged, since the role of preparing medication was considered separate from that of the physician.

 

Poppy Plants

Around 1500 BC, the Egyptians wrote a dissertation on medicine and pharmaceuticals. Among many plant sources they derived their drugs from were castor seed, spices, poppy and acacia. They imported some ingredients due to the limitations of what they could grow. The Egyptians developed ways to dry, ground up and weigh these materials. Those that concocted medicines were called ‘pastophors’ and were members of a priestly profession.

Seventh century BC clay tablets have been discovered revealing that the Babylonians used many plants as pharmaceuticals including castor seed, thyme, peppermint, myrrh, poppy and licorice.

Various theories of diagnosis and treatment arose through the Greek and Roman civilizations. Pedanius Dioscorides, who lived from around 50-100 AD, wrote Materia Medica, which listed various materials with their medicinal uses and also Codex Aniciae Julianae. This text on herbals, listed many plants and how to prepare them through drying and extraction. Dioscorides, a surgeon to the Roman armies, shared a philosophy with another famous Roman medical man, Galen. They believed that each plant’s shape, color or other physical characteristics left a clue as to which body part or ailment it was meant to treat. By the 16th century, this was foundation to one Christian viewpoint, which had expanded upon the Doctrine of Signatures, stating that it was the Creator who had marked each of these plants for their use.

During the Dark Ages, the Arab world and the monasteries of Europe, with their healing gardens, preserved much pharmaceutical knowledge.

Throughout history, many folk remedies, based on superstition, were supplemented with chants and rituals. Most often they missed the mark, perhaps imparting comfort if nothing else, considering man’s need to feel as though he is doing something! But apart from that, many plants continued to be used for healing and a large proportion of modern day prescription drugs are rooted in their derivatives. Some emerged to the forefront.

 

Cinchona Tree

During the 1600s, European Jesuit missionaries in South America sent a powder back home, derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. They’d been surprised to find out that the Native Peruvians knew how to successfully treat malaria, an illness spread by mosquitoes that has killed so many. In 1820, when French chemists extracted a chemical compound from the powdered bark of the cinchona tree, they called it quinine, based on the Peruvian name for the tree, quinquina.

William Clark and Meriwether Lewis took cinchona bark with them on their westward expedition. Lewis’s mother was an herbalist of some renown and imparted some of her knowledge to her son. While the men did not wind up contracting malaria, they found the bark useful for lowering fevers and as ingredient in poultices.

Would you like to know what “simples” are? And what potentially poisonous plants are used in pharmaceuticals today? Come back for Part II and find out!

Plants: Poisons, Palliatives and Panaceas Part 1/2: Click to Tweet

*Originally posted May, 2011.

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Kathleen lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of over 30 years. First, a wife and mother, she is “retired” after 20 years of home educating their three sons, who are all grown and have moved away.  Kathleen has been published in Home School Digest and An Encouraging Word magazines. She writes regularly for the local women’s ministry “Sisters” newsletter. She also contributes articles and author interviews to Novel PASTimes, a blog devoted mostly to historical fiction. You can connect with Kathleen via her website.