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on 4 March 1999
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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on 21 October 1996
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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on 2 February 1998
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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on 4 February 1999
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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on 6 October 2013
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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on 23 May 1998
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has done a wonderful thing: she has brought us a woman, a real woman who lived out her life doing what she felt she needed to do in a time that was full of questions for those that faced making a new country work. Ulrich brings to life Martha Ballard in every way, as much as the diary allows. By the time I finished the book, I felt I knew Martha Ballard, as if she lived next door to me, nurturing me through life. Ulrich is a wonderful story-teller, filling in the blanks and taking us back in word and time. An excellent book for anyone who wants to step beyond the text books and discover a real person making her way in our newly formed country.
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on 28 April 1999
I had to read this book for World Civilizations II and it was definitely worth it. This book shows a new approach to defining past cultures. Ulrich does a fantastic job of pointing out the important facts and letting the not-so-important facts rest.
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on 9 July 1998
This book provides a captivating look into the life and work of early american women. As a nurse practitioner, I found it even more interesting. The "professional battles" that Mrs. Ballard fought, the ways in which she contributed to the fields of nursing and medicine, even the way in which she "administered" her medications are still at the core of advanced practice nursing today. Mrs. Ballard and many of her contemporaries are represented as hardworking ,industrious women who too, had to balance "family and work"- and did so successfully. Historically, the book documents that advanced practice nursing is not a new phenomena, but one which was alive and widely used in early America. From a medical standpoint, it documents the professional change from farmer/physician to that of physician alone. By the conclusion physicians were becoming the person preferred to deliver babies. A living could now be earned by practicing medicine alone. The book provides a wonderful glimpse into the the rich history of health care- from birth to post mortem/burial via the life of Martha Ballard.
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on 30 September 1998
I found comfort in Martha. The coming and going of her days passing between my fingers with the turning of the page. I had the good fortune to find this book at the very time I returned to college. One of my classes is an American History class. I spoke to my professer and told him that while he did a fine job telling the facts, Martha filled me in on the "gossip". She made the words and events real. I found the reading of this to be a pleasure,I shared her with anyone who was willing to hear my "Martha" fact of the day and hit a sorrow at realizing the end of the book ment the end of this fine women. Can one grieve and feel a loss for someone unknown that died so long ago? In a way I did. Read the book and keep the spirit of her and all the others alive!
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on 1 February 1999
A Midwife's Tale is chock full of fascinating facts about the life of Martha Ballard, a New England midwife in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Her diary provides the reader a glimpse of her everyday life. It also gives a general idea of the culture of Martha's time. Through the details of her diary, we learn about gender roles, family and community structure, religion and the church, law, medicine, agriculture, and just about every other aspect of life after the American Revolution. The information is interesting, but the reading quickly becomes tedious because of the repetitive nature of Martha's journal entries. I suppose, however, that this accurately reflects Martha Ballard's life.
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