Newly Uncovered Historical Documents for Birth Activists

by faithgibson on August 4, 2023

in Contemporary Childbirth Politics

August 04, 2023

 for working on policy and legislation & midwifery students
If you ever wondered what it would be like to interview the famous obstetricians who practiced in the 1910-1930 era and created the “American way of birth” (a new obstetrical procedure ‘performed’ by obstetrically-trained surgeons), you have to read this book.
It is a treasure trove of information on attitudes, motives, goals, early policies and obstetrical practices, and Dr. JWW’s “invention” — the ‘elective hospitalization’ of healthy, wealthy maternity patients in order to generate a dependable and profitable revenue stream that could be used by small hospitals to modernize and upgrade the hospital building, as well as being able to purchase capital intensive equipment such as X-ray machines, large autoclaves and outfit their operating room.
One factoid of note during this period was the graduation requirement for Johns Hopkins Medical School — to have attended the childbirth of 10 women.
Simply being present at 10 births, with no additional training, allowed newly-minted MDs to legally advertise themselves as a medically-trained “man-midwife”. They could hang out their shingle and start providing man-midwifery services to childbearing women.
Topics covered are:
Policies instituted by Dr J. Whitridge Williams (former  Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine) and other influential leaders to make the use of Twilight Sleep drugs (a mixture of scopolamine and strong narcotics given on admission and repeated every 2-3 hours during labor and routine use of general anesthesia during the birth
Change in language and attitude that turned the biological process of normal childbirth in which laboring women “gave birth” into a surgical procedure ‘performed’ by the doctor, officially called and billed as a “normal spontaneous vaginal delivery” {NSVD}
obstetrical education and clinical training,
the new ideas of elective and universal hospitalization of healthy maternity patients,
operative obstetrics being defined as the normal standard of care for all childbearing women,
how to convince women to come to the hospital for normal childbirth,
how promote these ideas to the public so as to convince them to pay for them out-of-pocket and later one, with state and federal funds and
how to attract philanthropists to build new hospitals and create obstetrical charities to serve poor women.
The author of Painless Childbirth is Henry Smith Williams, who was born 3 years before John Whitridge Williams and outlived him by 12 years, In addition to sharing the same surname, both were MDs and both devoted their life to studying and writing academic publications in the field of medical science. Despite consider searching, I could not determine if they were related to one another. It seems likely, as about half of H. Smith William’s book on painless childbirth was devoted to promoting J. Whitridge Williams, his ideas and his professional aspirations. From the reverent tone and sheer volume of words, one must concluded that H. Smith was either J. Whitridge’s press agent or his brother or other close relative.
Here is the author’s bio from an advertisement for “Painless Childbirth”
“ Dr. Henry Smith Williams is one of our very few physicians and scientists of national reputation, combining as he does an expert knowledge of medical facts, a position of authority in his profession, and a remarkable gilt for straightforward, un-technical writing that all can understand and enjoy. Beginning his practice of medicine in 1884, he has held many positions of honor and trust, such as Medical Superintendent of the New York Infant Asylum, and the Randall’s Island Hospitals, New York; Assistant Physician to Bloomingdale Asylum; and has written many authoritative books on medical and related subjects, notably: “A History of Science” , “The Wonder of Science in Modern Life”“Miracles of Science”“Adding Years to Your Life”, etc., etc., also editor of “The Historians’ History of the World.” He has also contributed many notable articles to McClure’s Magazine and to medica

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