MIDWIFERY, according to Noah Webster, is the 'art
or practice of assisting women in childbirth;' and according to Worcester,
'the trade of a midwife.'
The term is derived from two old Saxon words---mead, a reward,
and wife; from the fact that the midwife was the person who received
the present or reward for assisting at the delivery.
History of Midwifery.
This duty of waiting upon women in childbed, and affording assistance
when necessary, was, till a comparatively recent date, performed wholly
by females. In Egypt, to which the earliest records of science extend,
they were the sole actors.
BIBLE HISTORY AND TESTIMONY.---From
all the passages in the Bible, where midwives are mentioned or the subject
is alluded to, it is certain that women only officiated on these occasions.
Not because childbearing was attended with no sorrow and danger in those
early days, for in the case of Rachel, it was a 'hard labor,' and she
died; nor on account of this misfortune were the midwives thrust out of
When Pharaoh commanded the 'Hebrew midwives' to stifle the male children
at birth, 'the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded
them, but saved the men-children alive.' The king sent for the midwives
and questioned them; the excuse they gave could not have been satisfactory,
but even this tyrant dared not invade their sacred office to make special
inquisition. So the midwives, with true courage, did right and feared
not. 'Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied
and waxed very mighty.' Yes, the people multiplied and waxed very mighty,
and continued to do so for five thousand and six hundred years, not by
the aid of male artists, but
under the administration of female midwives. Rev. Dr. Clarke, in his
commentary on the above passage, says, 'The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah
and Puah, who are here mentioned, were probably certain chiefs, under
whom all the rest acted, and by whom they were instructed in the obstetric
art.' Professor Bush remarks of the same, 'Plutarch says that some
of the nations of antiquity had schools where femals were taught the obstetric
art.' And Rev. Dr. Jenks, editor of the Comprehensive Commentary, adds,
'The French government wisely support such schools at the present day.'
In the New Testament, promulgated after midwives had been in practice
four thousand years, there is no intimation that men over did or ever
should assume this delicate office; but there is a passage which, after
speaking of woman, and the transgression, and alluding to the physical
degeneracy and suffering which followed, reads thus: 'Notwithstanding
she shall be saved in childbearing, if she continue in faith, and charity,
and holiness with sobriety.'---Faith in what? the 'accoucheur'
and his recent inventions, or in the great Architect, by whom the human
system was 'fearfully and wonderfully made,' and each organ adapted to
the function it has to perform? 'And charity. ' It can hardly be
called charity, especially that charity which begins at home, for a woman
unnecessarily to submit to a custom which, as will appear in the following
pages, often proves the bane of domestic happiness. Not is the present
practice any peculiar mark of 'holiness with sobriety.' 'Doth not even
nature itself teach?' says an inspired writer in reference to a matter
much less important than this.
The fact that the teachings of the Bible are consistent with nature and
philosophy, as well as essential to morality, and the fact that all the
light which can be obtained from its pages is in favor of midwives, and
not a word