The History of Midwifery, continued

In the 1990s, historians revisited this understanding of midwifery and realized that little of it stood up to close examination. It turns out that witchcraft accusations against midwives so rare they verged on nonexistent; indeed, as we shall see, midwives were key figures in efforts to identify and convict suspected witches. And while the image of the poor, uneducated midwife might have become true in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for the period before the scientific revolution, midwives came from across the social spectrum. There were wealthy midwives such as Bridget Hodgson of York, and the wife of the Lord Mayor of Chester, midwives from the middle class – it was not uncommon for a parish vicar’s wife to serve as a midwives – and also poor ones like Katherine Starman and Catharine Burwell of Sherriff Hutton, described respectively as “a very poore woman” and “an honest poor widow.”

The "new" history of midwifery is fascinating, complex, and still being written. We now know who midwives were not but we still have only the barest understanding of who they were, how they came to the profession, or how they fit into the local community. To learn more about midwives, click on one of the links below.