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

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  5,254 ratings  ·  630 reviews
Drawing on the diaries of a midwife and healer in eighteenth-century Maine, this intimate history illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.
Paperback, 444 pages
Published December 22nd 1991 by Vintage Books (first published 1990)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,254 ratings  ·  630 reviews


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Lisa Butterworth
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book 15 years ago shortly after it won the Pulitzer, and it was amazing then, and I was equally impressed this time. In fact I was surprised as I read how much of it I could remember reading even that many years ago, so it must have made a deep impression.

I'm just in awe if LTU, the depth and breadth of information that she gleans from Martha Ballard's spare diary entries is mind boggling, for instance, she'll throw out a comparison of the number of people, male and female that MB m
...more
Leslie
Feb 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
“A man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”

Martha Moore was born in 1735 in the town of Oxford, MA. She married Ephraim Ballard in 1754 and gave birth to nine children, lost three of them to diphtheria and eventually died in Maine, in 1812 at the age of 77.

Between 1785 and 1812, Martha Ballard kept a diary. Without it her life would’ve been just a succession of born and died dates in some town registry. We would know nothing about her. We would not know she was a midwife
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Stephanie
Feb 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History lovers, Women
Recommended to Stephanie by: Idahospud's Book Club
I kept journals fairly religiously while I was in high school. They are so full of rampant sentimentality (i.e. boy craziness) that reading them now makes me want to fetch the lighter fluid and matches straightaway.

Martha Ballard avoided this problem neatly by keeping her entries brief, factual and largely devoid of emotion or interpretation. She kept careful track of her work as a midwife, her gardening and household chores, and the comings and goings of friends, family, and neighbors; basical
...more
Katy
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting account of one woman's day to life in the late 1700's to early 1800's in New England.
Rina
Oct 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Though seemingly aimed at an audience who eat up popular history like its cake, Thatcher's book is well researched and obviously the child of a social historian. It may actually be in its favour to be so accessible by those that don't live in the same world as Thatcher in terms of gaining understanding of it and the implications Thatcher's work holds for both gender and medical history. While some parts are questionable in terms of putting thoughts on the person of Mrs. Martha Ballard, A Midwife ...more
Jacob
Sep 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Danette
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am so thankful to live in the age of modern medicine!
Martha Ballard was a caring, talented midwife who helped to deliver hundreds of babies. She also nursed neighbors through their illnesses and prepared the dead for burial. She had a strong faith in a sovereign God which gave her much comfort in the many trials she encountered.
Ulrich weaves a tapestry of the social, political, economic, familial, religious, & medical ways of Martha's day along with her journal of the every day work
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Stacy
Jan 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was a unique read. So each chapter starts with a section of Martha Ballard's diary. She was a real person who lived in Maine and worked as a midwife there. The diary covers her day-to-day notes between 1785-1812.

Women's journals from this time period are not at all common to have been preserved to modern day, but her family descendants preserved her writings all these years, and thank goodness they did. Her journal tells us much about life at that time and place, as well as medicine at the
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Rachel
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is a labor of love. Laurel Ulrich Thatcher (who is LDS, incidentally) sifted through thousands of journal entries & period documents to reconstruct the life of Martha Ballard--a woman history forgot. The result is stunning. You get to know, intimately, what life was like for an average American woman in the late 18th/early 19th C. This is not idealized portrayal, just wonderfully realistic.

And of course, the reason I first picked this book up is that I'm obsessed with m
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Maryk
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Until recent times, not many people would have recognized the name Martha Ballard as a name of historical significance. Though relatively unknown by the masses, most scholars agree that her written diary profoundly contributed to current knowledge of early New England women’s lives, especially those in the field of midwifery. It was the great effort of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, which unc ...more
Meredith Watts
Nov 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in micro-history
This book was amazing. It is set in the largely uncharted territory of Maine after the Revolutionary War. Few regular folks were literate at that time, which is why Martha Ballard, a largely self-educated midwife, gave us such a gift in keeping a diary. It's not a diary in the ordinary sense, but rather her accounts of her business as a midwife, sometimes punctuated with other short references to events in her life. Her husband was quite a guy -- a surveyor, who lived into very old age. Ulrich i ...more
Amanda
I very much enjoyed this look into Martha Ballard's life. I had expected this book to be primarily about her midwifery, but was pleasantly surprised to see that her diary delved into aspects of daily life, social interactions, and local scandals as well. The discussions about premarital sex and pregnancy were particularly interesting, and getting insight into debtors' imprisonment was also fascinating. I loved the index of herbs/medicines/etc. that was included at the end as well.

The nonstandar
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Jackie Snow
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Historian's historian. Took a midwife's journal with entries that were each maybe two or three sentences long and along with other research, built out the story of a woman, a town and a career. Just incredible.
David Nichols
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
This pathbreaking, Pulitzer-prize-winning book is a study of the life, labor, and social connections of a rural midwife, Martha Ballard, based on her manuscript diary in the Maine State Library. A MIDWIFE'S TALE changed the way historians researched and wrote women's history. In the 1970s and '80s, students of women's history primary focused on the records of literate, middle- and upper-class women, and defined their lives as a struggle against the strictures of a patriarchal society. Ulrich, by ...more
Ellen
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This started out really slowly. The introduction just about killed me with the dry and convoluted information. I had trouble following it and caring. Then I started on the rest of it. I really liked the format; being able to read some of the diary but then being told the back story from lots of other sources. The diary itself was hard to read but got easier as things went on.

I thought Martha's life was very interesting. All the comings and goings. It all made me want to live in an area that has
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Susan
Dec 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I began reading this book because Martha Ballard, the midwife, was a knitter who recorded her progress in winding wool and knitting socks and mittens while she attended births (lots and lots of them). Ulrich won a Pulitzer for this book, an astonishing interpretation of the diary of a midwife in Maine during the late 1700s/early 1800s. It is amazing that Martha Ballard kept this diary and equally amazing that her family preserved and donated her diary to the Maine State Library. Ulrich. Interest ...more
Doris
Nov 08, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was not what I expected. I thought I was getting a biography based on Martha's diary from the late 1700s to early 1800s. It actually reads more like a text book as the author disects the diary and uses other historic documents to describe life as a midwife in the time period. It was very interesting but not necessarily entertaining.

Very few of my preconceived notions of what it was like to live in the time period as a woman were true. Martha was a very independent person, b
...more
Sandra D
Nov 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I first happened upon Martha Ballard's diary online a few years ago and found it interesting but difficult to decipher, so I was happy to find this book.

In it, Ms. Ulrich has skillfully woven diary entries with local history records in order to create a fuller picture of life in a small New England town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She used entries in the diary as a jumping-off point to elaborate not only on the larger themes of birth, death, religion and political uphe
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sssnoo reads
This Pulitzer Prize winning biography/history may not be for everyone but I loved it. It is the rendering of the diary of an 18th century midwife in Maine, interpreted along with corresponding documents of the same time and place. Basically it an accounting of an ordinary woman’s life at the time. I was so impressed with Martha and enthralled to see the economy, medical care, home and community life from the eyes of a woman. This is a rare text indeed, and expertly put together in a book. It imp ...more
Aaron
I was reading this book while riding the light rail home yesterday after work. A man with a duct-taped leather jacket, who may or may not have been mentally ill, asked me what I was reading. I told him the title and author, and gave a brief description (people mistakenly think I've been reading "A Handmaid's Tale," which is quite a different story). Before proceeding to lecture me on the Seven Deadly Sins and the edicts of a long-dead pope, the man asked, "Why are you reading about obstetrics?" ...more
Debbie
In some ways this book was a challenge to read. First, the print is a tad small for these old eyes and, since it is in paperback form, holding both book and magnifying sheet proved clumsy. Second, during the time in which she compiled her diary, even scholars were "inventive" in their spelling. Martha was no different but she also described activities related to weaving I didn't know and had challenges interpreting. Fortunately for the reader, only excerpts are provided from the diary itself wit ...more
Rebecca Elswick
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book in so many ways - the story, the writing, the way I stepped back in time when I read it, but perhaps most of all, the love with which it was written. Meticulously researched, this book brought to life midwife Martha Ballard. Her daily New England life was as much a part of this book as was her midwife legacy. Through Martha, the reader can see what a woman's life was like in the late 1700s - early 1800s, which can be summed up in childbirth and hard work. This will be a book I r ...more
Ruth
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Chuck full of interesting and thoroughly researched information....but it was hard to get through. I listened to the audio version, and it was like listening to hours and hours of a police blotter (as my husband put it). I think I would have enjoyed this more of I'd taken more time to get through it, and I think the audio was a bad idea too (unless it had been narrated by Ulrich herself, because she's much more interesting to listen to). I am, however, looking forward to discussing it at my book ...more
Emily
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this for my Early American Women class, but found this to be very, very interesting. Some parts could get a bit tedious, so I would only recommend reading this for someone who is using it for class, research, or is truly, genuinely interested in the intricacies of this topic. Ulrich does a really great job with the analysis of Ballard's entries and how women played important roles in all aspects of society.
Elise
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
I found this hard to read and a little tedious. Part of it is Martha's style and spelling. And the author was very factual and did not embellish, which added to the difficult reading. Very non-fiction. But the substories are actually very interesting. Can't believe the crime!
Chelsey Hansen
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
The records were an interesting look into the past! But as a book... It was difficult!
Chantal Matkin Dolan
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not a fast or easy read. And I'm not sure I even ended up liking Martha Ballard very much. But I learned a lot about something I knew very little. Worth my time and effort.
Melissa
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really delightful, and a fascinating approach to history.
Emily
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
History is endlessly fascinating to me. Learning about how real people lived decades, centuries, even millennia ago - so different in so many ways to our lives today, yet so similar in others - makes me feel connected to those who have gone before.

I'm also fascinated by the process historians go through to better understand the past. It seems obvious to me that whether in science or history or any other area of study, as new information is discovered, as new data is gathered, as new
...more
Lynne
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Laurel Ulrich takes the basic diary entries of early midwife Martha Ballard (diary from 1785-1812)in Maine, and puts the entries in the context of the times when she lived. The diary records the day-to-day life of a wife, mother, midwife, and householder in post-Revolution America with entries about gardening, soap making, visitors, weather, spinning, weaving, etc and Ulrich expands the entries with information about how these daily activities affected the local economy, and how Martha Ballard's ...more
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Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. She is the author of Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Early New England, 1650-1750 (1982) and A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990) which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1991 and became the basis of a PBS documentary. In The Age of Homespun ...more