Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France

By Dena Goodman; Elizabeth C. Goldsmith | Go to book overview

5
Books and the Birthing Business:
The Midwife Manuals of
Madame du Coudray

NINA RATTNER GELBART

Angelique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray, the kings' midwife, had a long and extremely visible career in the public realm for nearly thirty years. Commissioned first by Louis XV, then by Louis XVI, to travel throughout France teaching the latest birthing techniques in an effort to reduce infant mortality, Madame du Coudray taught her delivery method either directly or through her trained disciples to roughly ten thousand women and girls. Her course was a veritable performance, the curtain raiser her much-heralded entrance into a town followed by hundreds of barefoot peasant women streaming in from the surrounding hamlets to become her pupils. Day-long lessons and demonstrations lasted at least two months and culminated in the ceremonious granting of royal certificates. Dismantling and packing up her anatomical posters and mannequins, she struck her set as the engagement ended, and the midwife departed with her supporting cast of assistants for the next booking. 1

Madame du Coudray saw the private business of birthing as an issue of public policy and patriotism. Central to this concept of public mission was her publication of a midwifery textbook. Its publishing history reveals the various ways in which its author exploited the print medium to pursue her

____________________
I acknowledge support for my research from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the William Andrews Clark Library, the UCLA Center for Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Graves Foundation.
1
Madame du Coudray taught in about forty cities throughout the provinces. I am completing a full-length book on her mission. See also my essays " Mme du Coudray's Manual for Midwives: The Politics of Enlightenment Obstetrics," Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 16 ( 1989): 389-96, and " Midwife to a Nation: Mme du Coudray Serves France," in The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe, ed. Hilary Marland ( London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 131-51.

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