A Midwifes tale Essay

: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. (New York: Vintage Books, 1990, 444 pp, maps, photos, abbreviations, notes, index.) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s portrayal of Martha Ballard?s life shows the intense measures physicians went through to treat their patients and the way of life for these times. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s book not only recounts early 1800s medicine but also how the people of their times was perceived. Ulrich discusses how women in this era were viewed as a submissive party that did what the role set by men should be. Ulrich?s book was written from detailed notes taken by midwife Martha Ballard?s diary that fills in the gaps that the assigned history book America a Concise History left.

In the book America a Concise History it mentions a brief description of ailments in the community but doesn?t focus on specifics of the ailments or how they were treated. In Ulrich?s book the ailments are discussed frequently with a small description of what symptoms were. This helps people that have an interest in what primitive medicines was before all of the discoveries linking the history they now know to information lost in years of growth.
Ulrich?s viewpoints clearly are shown in how the evidence in the diary is summed up in terms for the reader to understand. Ulrich discusses the work of the women of this time and how at many times was made to be less valuable than that of the men?s. Ulrich also describes some of the cruelty that was shown to people that was not of the ethnicity, standing, or beliefs of some of the upper class. Some of the most important information presented in this book to support Ulrich?s viewpoint would be the rape of Mrs. Foster. The book describes how some of the respected men in town rape Mrs. Foster after having an altercation with her husband Reverend Isaac Foster (pg 107-133). The next most important piece of information to support Ulrich?s viewpoint would be the statement ?by the middle of eighteenth century, most historians argue, fornication had become a woman?s crime? (pg 148).
This book has a lot of information of the woman?s views of life during these times which tends to be touched on lightly but not as much as the taxes and wars or even the start of the colonies. While these are all important not mentioning the midwives and the woman of these times in more detail leaves out a large chunk of American history. Reading this book would benefit the students trying to understand the historical past of medicine. This book has important information of the time but is a very slow read that some people may have a hard time remembering simply from the inability to concentrate on the ramblings of medical history.
From the information I have learned previously from biography shows and history classes there wasn?t anything new or particularly surprising as far as information on the times. In my opinion for someone interested in medicine and its origins? it would be a good book but for someone taking history to meet a requirement for a degree it isn?t beneficial. As far as something I read that Martha Ballard had said as a person I was shocked that she asked Mrs. Foster should keep the rape to herself to protect herself from opinions and repercussions of others in the community. As another woman and one with medical background one would think that she would have been supportive and understanding instead of telling the victim to not tell anyone for her own good.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s book The Life of Martha Ballard started out extremely slow with inserts of the original diary. It picked up just a little bit after the third chapter but not enough to keep my attention on the information. I had to read the information several times to remember the information that I was reading. The information that did stick in my mind was the information on how women that had babies born out of wedlock were perceived and how the rape of Mrs. Foster was handled. Even as a first responder the medical area wasn?t enough to keep my interest. I would not recommend this book for a basic read unless you are truly interested in historical reads or the origins? of medical techniques.

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