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

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

by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, J. Laslocky (Editor)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679733768
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/1991
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 115,625
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was born in Sugar City, Idaho. She holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire, University of Utah, and Simmons College. As a MacArthur Fellow, Laurel worked on the PBS documentary based on A Midwife's Tale. She is immediate past president of the Mormon History Association.

Susan Ericksen is a three-time Audie Award-winning narrator who has recorded over 500 books. The winner of multiple awards, including twenty-plus AudioFile Earphones Awards for both fiction and nonfiction, Susan is a classically trained actress who excels at multiple narrative styles and accents.

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A Midwife's Tale (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
itsmemimi More than 1 year ago
I originally read this book in 1995 and it has stayed with me ever since. This book impacted me so much in regards to women's history. The research that the author did is incredible. As the reader, you must be patient with the details because it is all worth it in the end. This book will impact your every day life in modern America.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes we get the idea that women really had it quite bad in Colonial and Early American Society. True, they had secondary status in the eyes of the law and the church. If one, however, reads the diary of Martha Ballard, as presented to us by Professor Ulrich, we catch a glimpse of the kind of empowerment some women could have in that time. Martha Ballard illustrated just how vital a women was to the existence of the American household during her lifetime. Taking away, for a moment, that she had a very successful midwifing practice, women contributed to the general welfare of the family, and even the economy, by their industriousness. Women's household chores, which seem so mundane to everyone today, actually allowed families to sustain themselves quite well. What a woman produced in the home, hopefully in excess, could then be turned around and traded within their community for other items which would provide for the family. Men, on the other hand, typically worked for wage labor and then came home to do what little they could during the rest of the day. Or, men farmed all day and did not have the time nor energy to do what the women of the household did. So, if the women then did not do their portion of their work, the family would be in serious jeopardy of depravation. Also, you will see how instrumental the children of a home were in the survival of the family and also how children were raised and trained for adulthood. However, when you couple into the mix Martha Ballard's mid-wifing practice, which as you will read was quite successful at its peak, Ballard was someone who could then exercise greater influence within the family because of her increased earning power. So, this book can provide a great insight into family life in Early American New England. And maybe, you will understand how women were empowered in other ways.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the Movie on TV and than read the book.I found Martha Ballard's so called common life not so common. She was an extraordinary person who was thoughtful, consistent, and willing to sacrifice many sleepless nights and treks through inclement weather to assist women in childbirth. Not only that, she was a 'counselor' of sorts. I found reading Miss Thatcher's painstakingly researched account and interpretation of the diary an inspiration to readers as well as writers. As a 'housewife, mother, and teacher's aide' among other things, I can relate to Martha's way of life. The diary in itself is priceless.
Carolfoasia on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I was fascinated by the personal history of this woman. It gave me great insight into post-Revolutionary War New England life. I was shocked at the percent of pre-marital pregnancies (38%)!
mckait on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This book is rather complicated. With excerpts from Martha's diary, we are treated to a peek at life in Hallowell Maine from 1785-1812. Part of what fascinated me was the use of herbal remedies, and other resources close to hand.In years past I have done a bit of study into these things myself, and was intrigued by how and what herbs were used by this woman who was midwife and doctor, nurse and friend to the women in her community. He usual fee was 6 pence, but she was often paid in goods or service and often according to the means of the family she visited. One family might pay nothing, and Martha would forgive the debt, just to see the woman brought to bed with her child safely and in good health for both. Another family would take pride in paying her very handsomely with goods and money far beyond what she requested.Martha made her way to these families in the best and the worst of circumstances. A winters night might find her plowing through waist high snow on foot. Another early morning might find her ensconced in a carriage and carried by this means to her door. This, as you can imagine was a rare event. Far more often is was on foot or horseback.It was common in those days for women to give birth every two years. This ensured that the family would have help needed to maintain their independence, as each child soon learned tasks that helped to provide the family with support of one kind or another. What tasks learned depended mostly upon the gender of the child, and the business of the family.The research done by Ulrich provides us with a much broader view than we would have been given by Martha's diary alone. Comparisons are made to other towns, other locations regarding births, deaths and family occupation. IT is explained in simple terms how one family's reliance on other family's foruse of needed tools or trade was key to their survival. One family might weave and trade the cloth for wool. It seems to me that if we had to rely on others more these days we might try a little harder to be nicer to each other.This is not to say that Martha's time was without local conflicts. For instance it was not uncommon for the head of the house to be jailed for debts. This would put his family into a very difficult and embarrassing situation.Something else that interested me and also reminded me of another book was the relationship between the midwife and the male Doctor. In the beginning things were a lot simpler and there was a great deal of cooperation between doctor and midwife. As time passed, the doctors began to feel and act in a superior manner. Eventually midwives found themselves in a much inferior position to the doctor. These things are mentioned by the author more so than by Martha. Her account is more mundane, and lends itself to the simple daily activities of the families. She kept her house, raised her family and kept local birth and death records, as well as some rather gossipy accounts of who was getting up to no good around the town.Without Martha's careful accounting there would be little record of the families of that time. There would have been no history for her own family of the triumphs and turmoils and moves and local history involving their ancestors.This is undoubtedly a book of history, and should be considered so by any thinking of reading it. There are plenty of dates and dry patches, but it was interesting to me none the less.If the topic of midwifery interests you, you might want to give it a read.. or if the history of Maine is what draws you in, this might be a book for you. I confess that it was much more of a history book then I expected, but I was determined to carry on . I am glad I did, but this one will not make it to my reread shelf.
Mipper on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is one of my favorite books, probably for its complexity in addition to the general topic. If you are looking for a romanticized book about life at the time of the Revolutionary War, look elsewhere. What caught me about this book was the painstaking research that went into it - and the fruits of that research are tremendous. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich dissects Martha Ballard's diary and compares it to other sources from the period giving a picture of life at the time. Some of the most interesting aspects, to me, were the lives of the women (which is usually not well documented, historically), the beginning use of physicians for childbirth and the incredible connection between the people, the environment and the society of the time. A great book.
Othemts on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Terrific social history work which examines the life of a typical American woman in the early Federal period through her diary. Wonderfully written and illuminating this is a must-read for anyone interested in American history beyond the typical "great men" stories.
auntieknickers on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is one of the most important works in both women's history and Maine history for the post-Revolutionary period.
brewergirl on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This isn't a book with an exciting or compelling storyline. It took some dedication to read it, but it was fascinating. I've never had the discipline to keep a journal but I appreciate the consistency of Martha Ballard's diary ... as well as the discipline it took to decipher it and place it in the larger context of her community.
Scapegoats on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Ulrich writes an amazingly detailed history of one small region in Maine during the late 18th and early 19th century. She bases the book around the diary of a mid-wife named Martha Ballard. The diary itself is remarkably terse, but Ulrich makes use of a variety of sources to supplement the diary and provide context. The amount of detail she provides makes the book slow to read, but gives an excellent picture of early American society in this rural society in Maine.
danichols on LibraryThing 10 months ago
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 contrast, chose to study the life of a modestly-educated woman of limited means, and to describe her daily business rather than her conflicts with others. She found that women like Ballard enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy, even power, in early American society: they sold homespun, garden crops, and dairy goods to neighbors; commanded the labor of their daughters and of boarding teenagers from neighboring households; and, in the case of midwives, presided over the rituals of birth and life. (Martha Ballard fulfilled these latter tasks quite well, losing only 19 babies from the 814 births she attended, and providing medical care to dozens of her neighbors). Ulrich's book reminds us that in history, "the petty struggles and small graces of ordinary life" (p. 343) were as important as longer-term struggles for legal equality and citizenship. A note for readers: while the early chapters of Ulrich's book can be slow going, the latter half of the book includes many exciting episodes, including a mass murder and a violent rural insurgency.
d.homsher on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A study of the life of an eighteenth-century midwife, Martha Ballard, in Hallowell, Maine, on the Kenebec River, based on her diary.Laurel Thatcher Ulrich studied the diaries of one of her ancestors, a talented, dedicated, tireless midwife in Maine, who lived during the late 1700s. Ulrich weaves excepts from the diaries with her own interpretations of the historical situation, based on extensive research. Wonderful book! The best sort of women's history.
emmelisa on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a historian's historian, and a gifted writer. Not only has she brought to light a marvellous document of life in America's past, she has also used her considerable scholarship to add depth and clarity to what would otherwise be an obscure journal of an unknown woman. Reading it, you are so caught up in the lucid way in which she highlights the details of Martha's story that it is easy to miss the incredible amount of research, study, and analysis that made it all possible. An impressive and important accomplishment, and a wonderfully readable book.
missdarla on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Martha Ballard's diary gives a unique insight into the life of women, and in particular, the life of a woman who helps to bring new babies into the world. This book doesn't read like a novel, these are her diary entries with additional descriptive text to help you follow along. I found it fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. It’s chock full of details of life, disease, injuries, and deaths as the pilgrims experienced them. The midwife monitored pregnancies, delivered babies, and cared for infants, toddlers, and children, many of whom died. Occasionally, a physician came from Boston to check on the scattered communities, most of them struggling every day to survive the hardships of pioneering, farming, and brutal weather. For the other 350 days a year, the midwife was a walking medical clinic. She was often called to care for sick and dying elders, or to patch together young and old adults who were horribly injured by dangerous equipment, or protesting farm animals. In times of epidemics, Ballard was the closest thing the community had to a doctor; she did her best, intervening with herbs, broths, medical skills, and prayers to stop epidemics. Her diary is fascinating; she kept meticulous records of the people and the results of their care. Submitted by: 10_TeePeez
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I could tell that a lot of work went into writing this book. I've done a lot of research on midwifery and this was the first detailed nonfiction book I could find from the 18th century. I found the material listed in the back of the book very helpful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Martha Ballard's Diary had been, apparently, discredited as useful until Ms. Ulrich exhaustively researched and presented this information. It felt at times a bit like taking medicine to read. I was amazed at how the female economy and education worked. It is a rare treatise and insight that has made me continue to think about what I read in this book, moreover to talk to others about the similarites in the behavior of people then and now. I can recommend it. Stick with it, a treasury of information unfolds.