The Midwife Who Traveled to Distant Villages in France

My husband and I spent a week in Upper Michigan, off the grid. During the day I worked on projects around the old farmhouse. In the evenings we shared dinner with my sisters. After dinner I read books. I was shifting between two books. Do you do that? have two or three books going at the same time?

One of the books was about a midwife who was commissioned by the king of France to teach midwifery skills throughout the country. The mortality rate of mothers and infants was high and King Louis XV was concerned about the prospect of a diminishing population.

Nina Gelbart wrote the book, The King’s Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray. The book has a picture of “the machine” Madame du Coudray used to demonstrate the skillful assistance of birth. Madame du Coudray devised a model of a female pelvis from cloth and wicker, along with a model of a baby. She also wrote a book of instructions that was published.

The midwife was commissioned to travel to distant villages with her assistants. She spent weeks at a time holding classes, demonstrating the movements of birth, watching the students work with her “machine”. 

The common problems of human nature peeps out throughout the pages. Madame du Coudray taught surgeons and doctors—but some felt it was beneath them to learn from a midwife. Matrons that had been the village midwife for years felt they needed no further help. Catholic priests felt that any young woman who was not a member of the Catholic church should not be certified as a midwife—she wouldn’t be able to baptize the infant if its life was in danger.

Madame du Coudray was skillful in relating to women and men. She was able to hold doctors and surgeons in respect, while teaching midwifery skills. She kept her focus on saving the lives of women and children. It is a testament to her abilities that she held classes all across France for more than thirty years (1751 -1783)

The writing prompt for today’s Five Minute Friday is: DISTANT

Street Names and a Chicago Library

Today I took the Metra train to downtown Chicago. I had plans to do some research at the Harold Washington Library. The library is about a mile walk from the the train station.

Because it was warm and sunny the streets were crowded with pedestrians: people in business clothes carrying attache cases, teenagers in shorts and t-shirts, couples holding hands and elderly folk with walkers.

I watched the street names as I walked. Many of them have a historical reference—La Salle, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson.

At the library I spent time looking through newspaper microfilm, until I was literally dizzy! I was searching for more information about the Chicago Midwifery Institute that existed for about nine years (1889 to 1898). 

Chicago was a center of growth and competing medical philosophies at the end of the 19th century. Dr. Paoli, at one time the president of the Chicago Medical Society, was behind the certification requirements for midwives in Illinois. He was also on the board of directors for the Linnean Hospital that hosted the Chicago Midwifery Institute. 

A Finnish midwife attended this school and received a diploma. In 1905 she was at the center of a legal battle in Massachusetts that dragged on for four years. After practicing midwifery for eight years she was accused of practicing medicine without a license. Her court case had an impact on the gradual diminishment of midwifery in the United States.

After a lunch break I visited the 9th floor that had an exhibit in honor of Harold Washington, the former mayor of Chicago that put plans for this library in motion. Sadly, he passed away before he could begin his second term. He didn’t see the completed library that was named after him.

Quote on the wall of the library

I’m joining the Five Minute Friday writing community. Today’s prompt is: NAME. Visit Kate’s site to read more takes on this prompt.