Vanishing Midwives ~ Newsweek, Volume 30, 1947

by faithgibson on September 22, 2012

His interest piqued by a book on midwifery, a Dr. Wertt of Hamburg, an early sixteenth-century physician, resolved to study the birth process at first hand.

Knowing well that a men would never be admitted to a lying-in room, Wertt dressed as a woman and went boldly to the next Hamburg confinement. All went well until one of the midwives recognized him as a man. Punishment came swiftly. In 1522, Dr. Wertt was burned to death for this outrageous act.

Through the years, the art of midwifery, dating back to the Greeks and Egyptians, flourished in Europe without much male competition. It was not until the latter half of the sixteenth century that Dr. Ambroise Paré of France added obstetrics to his practice of general surgery.

As recently as 1909, New York City had 3,131 licensed midwives handling 40.3 per cent of the total deliveries for that year. Last week; the City Health Department announced  that New York midwives had dwindled to 93, in charge of only 0.2 per cent of the deliveries for 1946.

That these professionally untrained women who care for their sisters during the birth of a child would eventually vanish from medical history was also predicted by stringent new rules laid down by the New York Sanitary Code.

According to the ruling, a midwife cannot deliver (1) a woman who has had no pre-natal care or serological examination (2) one over 35 years of age or who has had more than ten babies or (3) one who has had a pelvic or gynecological operation, a severe physical disorder–such as heart disease, diabetes, rheumatic fever, or tuberculosis –or prolonged labor for more than 24 hours.

Newsweek, Volume 30, 1947