Michael'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
Jun 29, 09

liked it
bookshelves: read-grad-student, academic-history, feminism, biography
Recommended to Michael by: Professor David Del Mar
Recommended for: American Historians, Womens' Historians, Feminists
Read in January, 2005 , read count: 1

This is a biography of a midwife who lived in the early post-Revolutionary United States, based largely on a detailed diary she kept from 1785 to 1812. It offers readers a look at the day-to-day life of an independent woman from a period in history mostly remembered for "great men." It is carefully edited and annotated to offer context for the reader not familiar with the period, and contains many fascinating tidbits of personal history. Martha Ballard is not interesting in herself, but rather the society in which she lived is interesting, and Ulrich extracts as much of that society from the text as possible from her source text, which is quoted extensively.

As a practicing midwife, Martha was deeply involved in the family, religious, and sexual life of her community, and it is here that most readers will find the most of interest. Yes, of course their were illegitimate children, unwed mothers, and adultery during that period. No, those women were not "burned at the stake." Ulrich takes one example - in which Martha's own son was accused of fathering an illegitmate child, to explore historical data on illegitimacy and its legal treatment in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While remaining tied to the human story of Martha's family, Ulrich gives details of historical research, debates, and revisions in this section, increasing the book's value as a teaching tool.

Some students will probably find the book too long, and some will complain that the life of some woman in Massachusetts isn't "real" history, but for those interested in getting closer to the day-to-day history of America, this can be an excellent source.

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