Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Michael J. Galgano

Emily Westkaemper

Jessica Davidson


Midwives have been unfairly represented in contemporary studies about the profession in urban Early Modern England. Midwives were actually quite intelligent and capable women beyond their skills in the environs of the birthing chamber. These women contributed significantly to their surrounding community in public and private spheres from the birthing chamber to the courts of law. Most urban midwives were highly skilled and knowledgeable in their craft based upon their many years of hands-on education in comparison to the university and book-learned preparation of male-midwives or physicians. These trained women were also literate and openly defended their profession against the criticisms of physicians and male-midwives in seventeenth-century England. Male-midwives and physicians criticized the learning and skills of women and tried to take over them by the latter half of the seventeenth-century. Despite the patriarchal society of Early Modern England, midwives continued to practice their profession quite successfully.

The thesis is based on rich primary sources including midwifery licenses, accounts from the Old Bailey, guides penned by midwives, man-midwives and physicians, diaries, newspapers, pamphlets and other extant sources. The secondary sources that provide context and support all claims made in this thesis include scholarly articles and monographs by renowned historians in the field of midwifery. The sources and interpretations together support the arguments developed in this thesis.

Midwives offered their medical expertise to the courts of law and their testimony was sought after in cases of infanticide and bastardy among others. While unprincipled midwives did exist, they were a tiny minority. Most midwives devoted their lives to learning and adapting the age-old craft of midwifery that was steeped in Biblical tradition. Midwifery remained the only profession open to women during this age despite the patriarchal society and traditional views.



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