Martha Ballard

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A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Q: Who was Martha Ballard, when and where did she live? Q: Explain the numerous roles of a midwife in colonial/early American society. A: Midwives did help in the birthing process, but they also did much more than this. They “mediated the mysteries of birth, procreation, illness, and death. They touched the untouchable, handled excrement and vomit as well as milk, swaddled the dead as well as the newborn. They brewed medicines from plants and roots, and presided over neighborhood gatherings of women” (47). Literal roles in addition to aiding in birth involved making medical products such as salves and pills, caring for wounds and burns, and treating diseases such as measles, colic, whooping cough, and dysentery. The social status of patients was irrelevant and they helped anyone in need. However, midwives’ disregard for status was not returned. Society often thought of them as gossipers and they were even sometimes feared to be involved in witchcraft. Martha’s own community gained trust in her and held her in very high regard toward the end of her career. Q: What was the status of the midwife compared to other women? A: In relation to other women in the medical field, midwifes were regarded highly. They “were the best paid of all female healers, not only because they officiated the births, but because they encompassed more skills, broader experience, longer memory” (64). This is because in order to get their position they had to start doing nursing and housework for others in the community, working with others in the field, and develop their skills gradually. Q: Explain the relationship of the midwife with males. Q: How did the “scientific doctors” interact with the midwives?” A: Doctors viewed midwives as lower than themselves, but still a part, if not a large one, of the medical field. Doctors often invited them to observe autopsies, but saw this as being politely customary even though midwives authenticated...
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