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A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 Hardcover – 1 Mar 1990

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Alfred a Knopf (Mar. 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394568443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394568447
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 15.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,256,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A major source through which we can vicariously experience the rural life of early New England." --Carl N. Degler, The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife and healer in eighteenth-century Maine, this intimate history illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Ulrich's book is a moving account in an underexplored area of American History--the lives and economies of early American women. This book is a double triumph--Martha Ballard kept a detailed diary for almost three decades and Ulrich rescued the dairy from oblivion to create a luminous work of scholarship. This book was moving and engaging beyond almost any work of history I have ever read. Nothing else I have ever read has given me a better feeling of what it would be like to live as a woman in those days. What a triumph!
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By A Customer on 21 Oct. 1996
Format: Paperback
Perusing a personal diary (portions of the diary are included
in the book) which contain sentence fragments and short
descriptions of the day's activity, Laurel Ulrich's book,
"A Midwife's Tale: The Diary of Martha Ballard," is a
fascinating reconstruction in the life of Martha Ballard,
a midwife who, during the Revolutionary War, is
characterized as a feminist in her own right. By choice,
many women left their homes to join their husbands to help
fight the war; others were driven away by Brittish soldiers;
but Martha Ballard, unaffected by the War and American
Politics, resided at home with her husband, family, and
friends. Incredibly, Ulrich writes in narrative style that
Martha Ballard had performed in 27 years more than 800
deliveries in and around Hallowell, Maine, produced and
distributed drugs, prepared burials and dissections, at a
time when medicine was in its infancy. This is a true story
of a woman who had been independent, strong, and productive
throughout her life. In the environment surrounding
Martha's world, "A Midwife's Tale" also portrays a 'women's
community' that characterizes an almost perfect social and
economic ideal of their time. The winner of numerous
prizes, historians, history enthusiasts, and feminists will
find this 352 page book (not including endnotes and index)
a wonderful and interesting read.
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By A Customer on 2 Feb. 1998
Format: Paperback
I read this book when it was first published and it didn't surprise me that it won a Pulitzer's Prize. It's one of the best biographies I've ever read, and since I'm a history buff, that made it all the more special. I've read and re-read it so many times that it's falling apart (and it's a hardback copy!). I'll be buying a new one and probably one for my mother, too, since she's the one who lent it to me (and then I wouldn't give it back). For anyone who's interested in what women were like at the end of the eighteenth century and the roles they filled at home and in the community--this book fills the bill. Thank you, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, for putting Martha Ballard's journal writings into perspective for women of the 1990's. I didn't want the story to end.
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Format: Paperback
This book is impressive because of the way the author combines the diary and her own research to complement it. The result is that the reader gets an insightful look into what daily life was like for Martha who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century. In most history books one can learn about the big events that happened during a certain time period, but it is rare to understand how people actually lived. Reading this book one sees how much time women spent on daily chores. Because Martha was a midwife and helped the sick, there is also interesting descriptions of how she would treat people and how this differed from how a doctor would treat people. Some incidents touched upon in her diary were extremely interesting and show us that there were similar scandals then as there are today. While some of the details of Martha's daily life are tedious to read, they are helpful in understanding how she lived. Her diary also lacks emotional insight and remains descriptive and impartial, which makes it less entertaining, but no less historically valuable.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a history student and bought this for one of my medical history modules, but I enjoyed it far beyond just a scholarly case study. Ulrich has really gone above and beyond in picking apart the diary of Martha Ballard, an eighteenth century midwife and medicine woman in her New England town. She says herself that the diary had previously been dismissed as just boring, repetitive women's work but Ulrich shows that this is what's so interesting about it. It shows the day-to-day life of women who would otherwise go down in history as just someone's wife (or be left out of history altogether), and shows their important role in the house, the family and in society. Martha was a respected woman of medicine and provides an insight into the role of women at childbirth, as well as into a transitional period in medicine where science and male doctors were becoming more involved. The diary furthermore reveals more about early American medicine, beliefs and society in general. It can sometimes be difficult to plow through, as well as frustrating when Martha says so little about something juicy! But it is also a rare primary source on the female perspective from this period and I found myself getting very attached to Martha, so well worth a read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I nearly abandoned this after the first few pages because it seemed so inconsequential, but then it sucked me in and I became completely immersed in the world of Martha Ballard. It is a book that will now stay with me - a reference point in recognising the significance of quiet lives and how the detail illuminates the big themes of history. And I am in awe of the skill with which Ulrich has bound together the diary extracts with commentary that brings her subject to life and leaping off the page.
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