Founding Mothers

Martha Ballard’s diary, September 11-25, 1787

The same week in September 1787 that the Framers “delivered” their Constitution to the American people, midwife Martha Ballard was busy caring for and delivering real babies in Hallowell, Maine.  To the right, one can view an image of her diary from that very week.  Compared to James Madison’s notes of the Constitution Convention, this journal might seem insignificant, but it better represents the lives and concerns of the four million Americans who resided in the country at that time.  Most of them, whether male or female, could probably relate more easily to the terse, businesslike entries in Ballard’s diary than to the fierce but often abstract political debates over sovereignty, republicanism and governance that the Framers were having in Philadelphia.  Students in History 117 should read historian Laurel Ulrich’s account of Martha Ballard’s life and ask themselves if Ulrich has explained the case for remembering this particular midwife.  What do we learn from this account of medical care in the early republic?  How can we explain Martha Ballard’s place in a survey of American history?  And finally, what do we need to know about ordinary lives in order to better understand the context of the past?  Students should also experiment with the Do History website devoted to Martha Ballard and her story.  See especially the transcription engine and the Magic Lens.  Also, a good reference website is available from PBS “American Experience,” which did an episode about Ballard a few years ago.


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One Response to Founding Mothers

  1. John Doe says:

    I found this reading interesting and surprising due to the fact that their was such high death rates from giving birth. Many of the midwives in this time were vital to the success of giving birth. Prior to 1778 when Martha Ballard gave her first delivery death tolls were extremely high. Not only did she help reduce the death rate of both mothers and their children but Martha took extensive notes and techniques to help future midwives. Almost every delivery she recorded the details and the strategy she had. The one question I had after reading this was prior to midwives what was the way to deliver infants and how was it so ineffective? I looked up on google and found old Egyptian traditional ways to deliver infants. What I found was very interesting. It was said if a mother were to eat a mouse prior to deliver she would be cleansed. Also a number of oils were rubbed on the back of the mother to relax her. (“BIRTH CONTROL.” New Page 2. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2015). Almost all of these births were done without doctors and were a household endeavor. This was unprofessional and lots the death rate was higher then with midwives. The introduction to midwives has helped decrease the number of death tolls in giving birth and Martha Ballard had a huge role in shaping delivery of infants.

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