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Midwives in early modern europe (1400-1800)

This article examines the status of midwives in the early modern period (1400-1800). More particularly, it examines midwives’ practice, education, skills and competence, social background, public life and image as well as the way they were regarded by their clients, in an era prior to their decline and the increase in medical intervention during childbirth. Due to bulk of information this study will remain within the geographical limits of England, Germany and Holland. Aim: The aim of the present study was to review the literature about the lives of European midwives in the early modern times, a critical period that signified their transformation and decline. The method of this study included bibliography research from both the review and the research literature, mostly in books and in ‘pubmed data base’. Although a search on Greek midwives of the same period was performed, this was not fruitful. Results: The review of the literature showed that early modern midwives were hard working women, presumably armed with great determination and pride for their art. They had to learn their skill out of any schooling institution from which they were excluded due to their gender. They often had to deal with awkward and difficult circumstances, travelling long ways in hard weather conditions to offer their services. The midwife remained the usual assistant in childbirth during this period and even though her place in the birthing room begun to be threatened by her rivals (as well as her own clients who gradually favoured men to deliver them), she did not sit back, but fought with willpower and anticipation. This period resulted in a revolution in medical practice and subsequently in a change in gender interaction.

Author(s): Kontoyannis Maria

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