Midwife of the Week: Martha Ballard

Born in Massachusetts in 1734, Martha Ballard practiced midwifery just as the first thirteen states were being formed. In her many years as a midwife, Martha delivered close to 1,000 babies in what is now Maine. One of few literate women at the time, Martha kept a terse but concise journal for 27 years, covering her daily life, midwifery practice, and goings on about town – nearly 10,000 entries. The journal reveals a woman who manages her work and family during times of disease, loss, trauma, and political upheaval. During Martha’s lifetime, hospitals were coming into existence, male doctors began attending births, and midwifery began to decline as it was assumed that women were incapable of learning and applying the new obstetrical practices.

In 1991, believing Martha’s journal provided a unique and important historical perspective, historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich published A Midwife’s Tale, winner of that year’s Pulitzer Prize, based on the journal. This website is dedicated to Martha Ballard’s life and journal: http://dohistory.org/martha/.

Midwife of the Week posts, written by Sirene-Rose Lipschutz, originate on FoMM’s Facebook page and are archived here on our website for your continued enjoyment!