Early Obstetric Medicine

Early Obstetric Medicine

Throughout history, women have often been the practitioners of obstetric medicine. However, they have not always been trusted or respected. In France during the 1400s, midwives were known to be especially skillful. If the mother died during childbirth, the midwife was severely punished, typically with a heavy fine. If, however, the baby died during childbirth, the midwife was often accused of witchcraft, and innocent women were killed (Wust and Anderson). Scholars argue that doctors in the 1500s were mediocre at best, however, “If there were exceptions, it was in the field of obstetrics, where women showed, as usual, the greater interest and efficiency” (Hurd-Mead 355). 

"Florentine ink sketch of a scene of birth," British Museum, 1526-1574. 

"Veintine [Roman] ink drawing depicting a scene of birth," British Museum Collection, 1548-1628."

"Etching print depicting birth," British Museum, 1585.

In the 1600s scholars claim that women were the most qualified to help deliver babies (Hurd-Mead 451). However, their qualifications were not based in science. During the 1700s in England any woman might be licensed as a midwife if she belonged to the Church of England, and promised not to “ignore the poor or the rich, or to lie, or to cause abortions, or to tell secrets, or to allow any false priest to baptize a baby, or to hurt a child or use witchcraft against it” (Wust and Anderson). 

"Birth of a prince in Jaipur Style," British Museum,1775-1800.