Midwife Martha Ballard encountered
several male medical doctors in the course of her daily rounds, visiting
patients and attending births. Sometimes Martha and the doctors clashed.
More often they cooperated or at least co-existed peaceably. Usually,
because of their gender, male medical doctors had the benefit of more
extensive formal schooling than female midwives did. Some doctors observed
or performed dissections on cadavers during medical training. Eighteenth-century
interest in scientific observation and experimentation had increased the
incidence of autopsies so that they were quite common by 1800.
We learn from Martha Ballard's
diary that she observed four dissections, those of Martha's niece Parthenia
Barton Pitts, John Davis, Naby Andros, and Rachel Savage. We learn that
doctors performed the dissections while other doctors and female midwives
observed. From other sources we know that within the next few decades,
more autopsies by professionalized male doctors would take place in hospitals.
Then medical doctors would argue that women were too delicate to observe
or take part.
Some of the cast of characters
in these entries about dissection were relatives of Martha Ballard. Parthenia
Barton Pitts was the daughter of Martha Ballard's sister. Parthenia had
lived and worked with the Ballards as a teenager before she married Shubel
Some of the others were simply
fellow townspeople. John Davis was the illegitimate son of John Vassall
Davis and Hitty Pierce. John Vassall Davis was a local Justice of the
Peace. Hitty Pierce was the unwed sister of Sally Pierce (Mrs. Jonathan)
Ballard. Son John and his mother Hitty were supported financially by the
father, John Vassall, but they had no permanent home. The mother and child
lived with one relative and then another. At age two, John was scalded
severely and lingered a month before dying. He was cared for at Martha
Ballard's, then was moved to Jonathan and Sally Pierce Ballard's. Sally
had just birthed her sixth child. The other five were nine-years-old and
younger, so the house was crowded with youngsters.
Neither Naby Andros nor Rachel
Savage were Ballard relatives. Martha did know the families well, however,
and was called upon to treat their illnesses.
For more, see the film A
Midwife's Tale and Chapter Two of the book A Midwife's Tale.