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Midwifery in Birmingham and Environs, 1794 -1881


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Went to a talk on the above subject last week by Fran Badger. Here are a few notes. Her talk was based on her thesis at Birmingham University which, if anyone is interested, is at https://etheses.bham.ac.uk//id/eprint/5318/1/Badger14PhD%5B1%5D.pdf .

This subject has not previously been much studied, partly because of the lack of available information for the area, unlike London. There were no surviving Birmingham midwifery registers, but some records from the Birmingham Dispensary, lying-in hospital charities and poor law institutions, and the surviving register of one midwife from Coventry.

It seems that midwives did receive training via working alongside more experienced women . However then often combined this occupation with another and official
records often list only the other occupation. Thus the midwife from Coventry, Mary Eaves (1790-1876), is described in the census as a midwife, but on death only as "widow of silk weaver", and she is known to have carried out silk weaving herself. Thus the occupation does not receive the recognition that it deserves. They did keep accurate records (though few survive), and received a reasonable income (little data on individual charges survives, but in one case seven shillings and sixpence is quoted while a typical workload seems to have been 200 births a year) and seem to be well respected in the community, and should really be considered as business women. Indeed many adopted the descriptive name of accoucheur (as did apothecaries and some medical men) to describe themselves in an attempt to raise their status. Certainly Ursula Phillips, the midwife for the Birmingham lying-in charity, in her will left silver tableware and gold jewellry, which would indicate that did rather well. she was, however in a favourable position with stable employment. The increasing status of the profession is shown when in 1873 the Birmingham lying in charity decided that in the weekly reports of births in the Daily Post it would name the midwives and not the doctors (Bet the doctors were not too happy).

If anyone is interested in more detailed information the thesis gives a lot more detail.