Bearing Independence: The Concept of Social Childbirth in Martha Ballard's Life Writing

Bettina Huber

Abstract


Martha Ballard worked as an 18th-century midwife in Hallowell, Maine. Her diary, an important historical account of her time, represents the concept of social childbirth. Women formed a female community around the expecting mother shortly before, during, and after giving birth to support her and allow for a period of recuperation. As a midwife, Martha Ballard was the most important woman to attend the expecting mother. This article argues that this significant status, which Ballard performs in her diary, allowed her and other midwives to break through traditional gender roles, to earn a personal income, travel freely, and live a more independent life.


Keywords


Martha Ballard; life writing; social childbirth; midwifery; late eighteenth century; gender studies

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