Title: A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
Author: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Categories: Family, Labor, Rural, Cultural History, Social History, Biography, Microhistory
Time Period: 1785-1812
Laurel Ulrich delicately excavates an incredibly rich source in early American history. Through the daily diary of Martha Ballard, a Maine midwife who wrote from 1785-1812, she is able to recreate the texture of rural New England. Through Ballard's eyes, Ulrich reveals a range of broader social, political, and economic trends. First, and most importantly, Ulrich illuminates a gendered pattern of labor. Although men and women worked apart, she reveals just how deep female labor ran in the rural economy (especially in textiles). In working in these modes of production, women engaged in an intensely social "web" that connected them well beyond the traditional confines of the household. In Ulrich's telling, women had little public or political presence, but a widespread engagement in a social economic exchange. Second, through Ballard's midwifery practice, Ulrich discusses the turn of the 19th century as a tipping point, in which earlier childbirth and healing practices that were phenomenally social and female were giving way to new, male-dominated "scientific" obstetrics. By the middle of the 19th century, women would be largely excluded from this tightening professionalization. Third, Ulrich discusses marriage and sex in rural New England. She writes that premarital sex was widespread and that children often chose their own spouses, but that the patterns of marriage tended to follow economic considerations rather than romantic ones.
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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