Siria's Reviews > A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812

A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
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's review
Sep 05, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-history, biography, history, nonfiction, womens-history
Read from August 26 to September 05, 2012

This is a really exemplary piece of scholarship, as Ulrich uses the diary of a rather obscure woman—Martha Moore Ballard, a midwife from the small town of Hallowell, Maine—to tease out a history of life in late eighteenth century America. Ulrich uses the diary as a springboard to talk about a wide range of social and political issues—everything from sexual morality (40% of the deliveries Martha carried out were births to unmarried women!) to changes in attitudes towards medicine to politics and religion—comparing and contrasting it with other surviving (male-authored) sources from the time.

The picture we get is of a world in which women had much greater involvement in the social and economic life of their communities than "traditional" historical narratives would have us believe. There are no "angels in the home" here, just women trying their best to make a living despite domestic strife and political turmoil. Ulrich writes clearly and I think how she uses her evidence is a model for all historians, no matter the field, because of how measured and balanced she is. Fascinating, and an impressive accomplishment—Ulrich has really succeeded in bringing back to life a woman who would otherwise be largely forgotten.

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08/26/2012 page 8
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