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MIDWIFERY AND WOMEN'S WORK IN THE EARLY AMERICAN REPUBLIC: A RECONSIDERATION OF LAUREL THATCHER ULRICH'S A MIDWIFE'S TALE
TANFER EMIN TUNC
The Historical Journal
Vol. 53, No. 2 (JUNE 2010), pp. 423-428
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40865695
Page Count: 6
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Twenty years after its initial publication, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Pulitzer Prize winning monograph A midwife's tale : the life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785-1812 (1990) still serves as a major benchmark in women's labour/economic history mainly because it provides scholars with a window into the life of a turn-ofthe-nineteenth-century lay American rural healer not through the comments of an outsider, but through the words of the healer herself While, on the surface, Ballard's encoded, repetitive, and quotidian diary may seem trivial and irrelevant to historians, as Ulrich notes, 'it is in the very dailiness, the exhaustive, repetitious dailiness, that the real power of Martha Balhrd's book lies ... For her, living was to be measured in doing' (p. 9). By piecing together ' ordinary' primary source material to form a meaningful, extraordinary socio-cultural nanative, Ulrich elucidates how American midwives, such as Martha Ballard, functioned within the interstices of the private and public spheres. A midwife's tale is thus not only methodologically significant, but abo theoretically important: by illustrating the economic contributions that midwives made to their households and beai communities, and portioning the organizational skill of multitasking as a source of female empowerment, it revises our understanding of prescribed gender roles during the early American Republic (1783—1848). Even though A midwife's tale is clearly limited in terms of time (turn-ofthe-nineteenth century) and place (rural Maine), it deserves the renewed attention of historians-especially uose interested in gender relations and wageearning, the economic value of domestic labour, and women's work before industrialization.
The Historical Journal © 2010 Cambridge University Press