Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Midwife-Entrepreneurs

Edith here, recuperating from knee replacement surgery. But also ecstatic to have Delivering the Truth nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery, and "The Mayor and the Midwife," my short story featuring midwife Rose Carroll, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

A friend found a used book she thought I'd enjoy, Catching Babies: The Professionalism of Childbirth 1870-1920 by Charlotte G. Borst, now a history professor in Birmingham, Alabama. (This copy is inscribed, "To Mother, with love, Charlotte," so now I'm imagining Mother, and Charlotte, and how the book came to be for sale in a used book store. Hmm, a new short story, perhaps.) The book appears to be Borst's doctoral dissertation and focuses on birth logs and other primary historical sources in four Wisconsin counties.
Perfect! Thanks, Rae Francoeur

So I've been leafing through it, gleaning useful research for my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Chapter Four is titled, "Midwife Entrepreneurs in the City" and uses several urban Wisconsin midwives as case studies. Despite being an academic treatise, it reads easily and well. And I'm finding all kinds of interesting facts.

Mary Gerrard left a complete record of the births she attended. During the years my books take place, the end of the 1880s, she attended around 200 births a year. She was a full-time midwife despite having seven children at home. She had attended a three-month course at the Northwestern Academy of Midwifery in Chicago and earned a diploma in 1878. Borst discusses other urban midwives following similar careers. All were able to earn a decent living. This bodes well for my fictional Rose Carroll continuing her midwifery practice should she and beau David Dodge ever manage to tie the knot.

One point of Borst's I found interesting is that despite these women being successful in their chosen field, they didn't attempt to move beyond their neighborhoods and promote a professional identity for their occupation. The work of even these successful, educated entrepreneurs basically didn't differ much from that of the less-educated rural neighbor-midwives, and they didn't organize into a professional organization. 

Once the concept of the professional began to be more popular after the turn of the century, childbearing women started to seek out physicians to assist with their births. (Physicians certainly also sought to control the birthing environment, but that's a different book.)

Stay tuned for Called to Justice, book two in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, which releases April 8! 

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