A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
Drawing on the diaries of a midwife and healer in eighteenth-century Maine, this intimate history illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.
It changes everything
By Ruth - December 3, 2000
Laura Ulrich rewrites history, using an overlooked diary written by a midwife 200 years ago. In 1928, Virginia Woolf (in A Room of One's Own)complained they we don't know how women in the past spent their time. We don't, and it's extraordinary how much a little bit of information about these women can change the way we think about society, women and history. The brilliance of this book lies in its ordinariness. Martha Ballard's life is not described in such detail because of anything she did that was unusual or exceptional. She was an ordinary women who worked hard and raised her family like so many have done. No, the fascination comes from the fact that such women (and their impact on society and social change) are usually invisible to us. Sometimes, as a modern woman, I find it hard not to despise many of the women you read about in history books: pathetic, passive, ignorant, helpless, victims, or Great Heroines. Martha Ballard is just like a woman we might know today:... read more
the lives too often unrecorded
By Karen Sampson Hudson "Karen Sampson Hudson" - February 21, 2002
Thanks to gifted historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, I hear the voice of Martha Ballard as she goes about her productive, meaningful life in late 1700s Maine. I also feel her shining, transcedent spirit nearby as I read. Martha's diary is filled with the cycle of neverending chores that still characterize the lives of women today. As caretakers, we cook, launder, clean, over and over again. Martha's diary also opens our eyes to the lot of our earlier sisters as they lived through (if fortunate, they lived) an 18-month to two year cycle of pregnancy, birth, and lactation.
Martha ministers to them both in body and spirit; and the entire, closely bonded community of post-colonial wives and mothers is depicted in her story.
"I returned home at 10 hour morn, find my house alone and everything in Arms. Did not find time to still down till 2 pm." How this still resonates as women try combine work in the outside world with the unrelenting demands of domesticity... read more
By Teresa Carpenter "cafe reader" - December 26, 2006
We've heard stories of how our great-great-great-grandmothers rose before dawn, plowed the lower forty, baked biscuits and then raised a barn, all before noon. A Midwife's Tale seems to confirm this. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich draws upon a remarkable document, the diary of a New England midwife, Martha Ballard of Hallowell, Maine, who recorded the details of her daily life between 1785 to 1812. Ulrich deconstructs Ballard's laconic entries to reveal the complex routine of a woman who kept a household for seven people, ran a cottage textile workshop, and served as midwife at the birth 816 infants during her 27 years of practice. (There were male physicians in the community, but they rarely intervened in this woman-dominated ritual unless there was a breech or still-birth to be dismembered.) Ballard's ministrations, in fact, went far beyond birthing to the practice of general medicine. She could apply poultices, lance abscesses, expel worms, induce vomiting, stop hemorrhages, bring down a... read more
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