Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Celebrating Our Foremothers: Martha Ballard

Have you ever heard of Martha Ballard? Since we are making more of an effort to celebrate our foremothers here at FMF, I think it is fitting to celebrate the contributions of this 18th century midwife. Ballard acted as a midwife to the very small town of Hollowell, Maine, from the late 18th century into the early 19th century. You may be thinking, “Emily… A midwife? There have been midwives since there have been babies! What made her so special…”

Ballard is special in that she offers us a peek into the world of an 18th century midwife through her meticulous diary entries. In fact, her diary entries have been turned into the book A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. The literate Ballard kept notes of each delivery that she performed for a span of 27 years. She wrote entries about the grueling commutes, and the perils of difficult deliveries. Can you imagine a crossing a near-frozen river in the middle of the night to deliver a baby? She also writes of the evolution of society and religion, various epidemics that claim lives in her town, and so much more...

In the back of her diary, she kept thorough notes about payments received and promised, as families would provide Ballard with a payment according to their means. She was a well-respected member of her town, and she delivered children to wealthy and poor families alike. Still unimpressed? In 814 recorded deliveries (and an estimated unrecorded 200 before she began the diary), Ballard lost only five mothers and 20 babies; it would not be until WWII that a delivery was any safer than Ballard had performed about a century-and-a-half earlier. I highly recommend picking up a copy of A Midwife’s Tale, as it totally changed my perception of midwifery, and it offers really interesting insights into the world of one woman who, knowing that no one else would tell her story, decided to do it herself.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact campusteam@feminist.org!


Ellen said...

wow Emily, I had no idea about this great woman. It's interesting because midwives are still very relevant and important today, even though we often think of that profession as antiquated.

WendyM said...

That's awesome. Already I'm learning...I didn't know about Martha Ballard.