Midwives in Early Modern Europe

Midwives in Early Modern Europe

Lindsay Dial, Jessica Hauger, Tom Robisheaux


Type: Lab

Spring 2020

Lindsay's project focuses on the work of midwives in early modern Europe and the way that they were treated in the medical literature of the time. It aims to address gaps in the existing scholarship of this topic, namely how midwives are defined in research and the aforementioned treatment of midwives in the contemporary medical literature. She worked with primary sources from different areas in Europe, primarily France, England, and Germany, as well as secondary sources on the topic. Going forward, Lindsay would like to write a paper on the research she completed during the semester and expand her research to include more information.

Summer 2020

Lindsay’s research focuses on midwifery in early modern Europe to write a  paper that fills gaps in the existing study of the topic. Her project examines attitudes towards midwives present in early modern Europe through a study of prevalent rhetoric about their competence in the medical literature. Scholarship on early modern midwifery has largely left the topic of negative stereotyping in medical writings unaddressed. However, it is an important aspect of the relationship between midwives and the medical establishment and thus a significant component of midwives’ broader social and professional roles. Further, medical rhetoric about midwives helps to contextualize larger contemporary trends in misogyny. Lindsay has found that midwives were substantially more competent than common depictions in contemporary medical writings imply, and that critiques of midwifery by male physicians and surgeons reflect a comprehensive effort to exclude women from medicine and sustain male power over women in all areas of society. The criticisms of male medical professionals targeted the personal integrity of midwives as well as their alleged lack of skill. Scrutiny of their proficiency tends to be vague, and often comes from men with far less practical obstetrical experience than midwives, sometimes having only theoretical training. Lindsay presents an overview of these findings and discusses the purpose, content, and methods used in her paper.

Project Website