Academic journal article Nursing History Review

The Court Midwife

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

The Court Midwife

Article excerpt

The Court Midwife By Justine Siegemund, edited and translated by Lynne Tatlock (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) (260 pages; $24.00 paper)

Anglophone historians of medicine owe a debt of gratitude to Lynne Tatlock for her translation of Justine Siegemund's The Court Midwife. The book, a seventeenth-century medical text on the science and art of midwifery, is part of a series from the University of Chicago Press called "The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe." This series makes available works by women who wrote during the early modern period (1300-1700). Tatlock's edition of The Court Midwife nicely succeeds in giving voice to a strong, intelligent midwife as well as to some of the pregnant women whom she assisted.

Justine Siegemund was a German midwife who published The Court Midwife in 1690. Translator and editor Tatlock wanted "to preserve the distinctness of this midwife's voice, the intelligent, assertive, unvarnished, and practical voice with which Siegemund speaks" (p. 26). Tatlock succeeds. Siegemund's confident demeanor is palpable. The strong yet guiding voice with which she wrote is the same voice she must have employed as she helped women in their most painful yet joyful labors. By her own assertion, Siegemund was sought out by both rich and poor. Her self-assured deportment likely resulted from her need to justify two characteristics that separated her from other midwives-her own childlessness and her interventionist philosophy. The latter appears most strikingly when she criticizes midwives who "do not concern themselves with anything more, even violently dispute that a midwife can do anything more, because it is hidden from them" (p. 152).

Siegemund's work shows that she was not only a much valued and energetic midwife but also a fine teacher. She instructed her audience via two dialogues and through engravings. The dialogues emphasize the midwife's reliance on touching "of the cervix in order to determine the degree to which the cervix is dilated and the position of the fetus" (p. …

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