The lives of 18th century women were not very well documented. In fact most historians would have laughed when asked for good historical material on those women. However, the Diary of Martha Maud Ballard gives us a detailed view of the time period in which those women lived, and how they played a part in it. Laurel Ulrich, a historian who painstakingly transcribed the diary, interpreted the lives of the people living around Martha Ballard, and Martha Ballard herself.
Post-Revolutionary era frontier life was difficult on women. They could not make the same wages as men, midwifery was the highest paying profession for a woman at the time. Midwifery was a medical profession, and Martha Ballard was often involved in the curing of illness, the delivery of babies, and other such medically relative events. Ballard, on September 2, 1794, wrote in her diary that, “[She] walkt to mr Pittss this morn where [she] Saw the opperation of a Dessection performd on his Deseased wife. her Lights were found to be very much ulcerated & a Skirrous utera. her remains were interd about 6h Pm.” Ballard is here talking about a dissection of a deceased female that she witnessed. This incident provides insight on the state of early medicine. Doctors in the time period used some methods that are still in practice today, for instance: the dead woman’s autopsy gave them knowledge of why she died, not unlike autopsies performed today.
Society was different in the post-Revolutionary war era. The male-female relationship of the time period was quite different from today’s. Today, pregnancy outside of wedlock is frowned upon heavily by most. However in Martha Ballard’s time it was not uncommon, in fact the only thing frowned upon was when the man did not propose to the woman upon hearing of the pregnancy. “Sally Pierce swore a Child on my son,” recounted Martha Ballard in her entry on July 19, 1791. Martha’s reaction to the proclamation of pregnancy by Sally Pierce helps to depict the societal...
Cited: Ballard, Martha. “Dissection.” Martha Ballard’s Diary Online. DoHisory. 29 Oct. 2008 .
Ballard, Martha. “Premarital Pregnancy.” Martha Ballard’s Diary Online. DoHisory. 29 Oct. 2008 .
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. “Martha Ballard’s Diary.” The Book: A Midwife’s Tale. DoHistory. 29 Oct. 2008 .
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