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A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Page 346 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich




That Martha Ballard kept her diary is one small miracle; that her descendants saved it is another. When her great-great-grandaughter Mary Hobart inherited it in 1884, it was "a hopeless pile of loose unconsecutive pages"-but it was all there. The diary had remained in Augusta for more than sixty years, probably in the family of Dolly Lambard, who seems to have assumed custody of her mother's papers along with the rented cow. At Dolly's death in 1861, the diary descended to her daughters, Sarah Lambard and Hannah Lambard Walcott. James North no doubt consulted the diary at Sarah Lambard's house on Chapel Street in Augusta, extracting the few passages he included in his History.

Mary Hobart was ten years old when her great-grandmother Dolly Lambard died. She was thirty-three and a recent graduate of medical school when her great-aunts Sarah and Hannah gave her the diary. "As the writer was a practising physician," she later explained, "it seemed only fitting that the Ballard diary, so crowded with medical interest, should descend to her." In 1930, Hobart gave the diary to the Maine State Library in Augusta. In a letter written at the time, she summarized her own life in a few brisk sentences, referring to herself in the third person:


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Page 347 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

The doctor, who likes to believe that the mantle of her gifted ancestor fell on her shoulders, was born in Boston, 1851 - She graduated from the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, in 1884, and carried on her medical work in Boston until 1913, when she retired to private life and took up her residence at Needham Heights, Mass. During the thirty years of her professional life, she was associated with the New England Hospital for Women and Children of Boston.1

It is not surprising that Mary Hobart found inspiration in her ancestor's life. She was herself a pioneer.

Hobart began her professional life at the famous New York Infirmary for Women and Children, founded by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to graduate from medical school. Blackwell had hoped that other women might follow in her footsteps, but when established medical colleges, including her own alma mater, Geneva College, closed their doors to female students, she was forced to open her own. Thanks to Blackwell's efforts and those of others like her, female physicians comprised about 5 percent of the profession in the late nineteenth century, a figure that changed little until the 1960s.2 Mary Hobart spent the remainder of her professional life at another landmark institution: the New England Hospital, founded in 1862 by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, was the second hospital in the United States run by women for women. Unabashedly separatist, it survived into the middle of the twentieth century, simultaneously committed to high professional standards and to female control.3

The year Mary Hobart received the diary was an important one for the female physicians of Boston. On June 10, 1884, after more than thirty years of debate, the Massachusetts Medical Society voted (63 to 47) to admit women as members. Marie Zakrzewska had first petitioned for membership in 1852. After repeated rejections (male leaders felt it was improper for men and women to discuss medical matters together), she gave up trying, vowing that if ever the society did open its rolls to women, she would ignore it. Still, when the opportunity finally became available, she


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Page 348 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

did not discourage her young colleagues from applying.4 Mary Hobart lost no time.

On June 16, less than a week after the society's vote, Charles Green of the Suffolk District Medical Society wrote to Dr. Francis Goss of the state society informing him that two women, one of whom was "Mary F. Hobart, M.D.," had applied for membership. " Before I can Examine into the Credentials of these women I shall need instructions as to what diplomas to recognize," he continued, adding, "Of course there are no women's colleges on the authorized list." He closed the letter, "Yours truly & in disgust."5

Conscious of her own place in history, Mary Hobart was drawn to her ancestor's diary. Her cousin Lucy Lambard Fessenden arranged the scrambled leaves of the diary in order and bound them in homemade linen covers. Mary had a mahogany box made in which to keep the now two-volume diary. "During her practice, it has been a source of vital interest to her colleagues as well as to her family," she told the state librarian. One can imagine the doctors of the New England hospital turning the pages of the old diary during the troubling decades at the turn of the century, a time when old traditions of separatism were being challenged by the gradual opening of male colleges and hospitals to women. What lessons did they glean from the faded pages?

Mary Hobart did not say. But some sense of the complex attitudes of nineteenth-century women toward the past can be gained by comparing Hobart with one of her relatives, Dorothy Barton's granddaughter Clara Barton. In 1882, while Mary Hobart was studying at the New York Infirmary, Barton was lobbying Congress to support the Treaty of Geneva, making possible the establishment of the American Red Cross, a success, as her biographer proclaims, "to be measured not only against the goals of humanitarians--where it stands as a stunning achievement-but also with the work of diplomats."6

Unlike Hobart, Barton was old enough to have known her Maine progenitors personally. Her grandmother, Dorothy Barton, had spent the last years of her life in Oxford during Clara's childhood. Clara was intrigued with her grandmother's feistiness and rebellion. She identified, too, with her father's and


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Page 349 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

grandfather's stories of war, which may help account for her own battlefield adventures. During the Civil War she fled her Patent Office clerkship in Washington, D.C., for the fields of Fredericksburg, Harper's Ferry, and Bull Run, collecting bandages and candles for military physicians, assisting with nursing, and, when no doctor could be found, standing in pools of blood and extracting bullets with her pocketknife. She may have been thinking of herself as well as her ancestors when she wrote a colleague who proposed compiling a history of American women, "From the storm lashed decks of the Mayflower ... to the present hour; woman has stood like a rock for the welfare and the glory of the history of the country, and one might well add ... unwritten, unrewarded, and almost unrecognized."7

Barton rebelled against the genteel femininity of her own generation by joining men in their own arena, proving her heroism in wholehearted commitment to her country's glory. Despite her public reputation as a self-sacrificing "angel of the battlefield," she was a conscious feminist, a lifelong supporter of women's rights and women's suffrage. At the same time, she was also somewhat conventional in her acceptance of male values. She remembered her grandmother's resistance to the pre-Revolutionary tea boycott, but she never questioned her father's and grandfather's commitment to war. She was the sort of woman who would have gloried in a "storm swept" canoe ride along the Kennebec but might have grown tired of the narrow theatre of birth.

In contrast, Mary Hobart was attracted less to the heroism than to the professionalism of her great-great-grandmother's life. To her, Martha was a "gifted" woman, a skilled practitioner, careful about her fees and sure of her methods. In some ways, Mary Hobart had assumed the mantle of her ancestor. She and her great-great-grandmother were both independent and resourceful women. Both specialized in the care of women and children. Both had problematical relations with the medical establishments of their time. Yet there were also important differences between them. Martha was a skilled practitioner in an ancient female craft, Mary an early entrant in a once exclusively male profession. Martha derived her authority from a local community of women.


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Page 350 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Mary owed her profession and her identity to a new feminist sisterhood. Martha ministered to women of all social classes in their own homes. Mary cared for the poor in a public hospital. Martha was married and the mother of nine children. Mary was single, by choice and perhaps by necessity as well. Unlike women of her great-great-grandmother's generation, she was able to support herself independently, yet was expected to choose between marriage and a career.8

Mary Hobart cherished her ancestor's diary. Only a desire to make it "more accessible to a wider circle of antiquarian workers," combined with a fear that it was not quite safe in her wooden house, prompted her to donate it to the Maine State Library in 1930. The library promised to give her, in exchange, a typewritten transcription of the original. She never received such a transcription, though two years later the library presented her with offprints of Charles Elventon Nash's abridgment of the diary. Nash's version of the diary had been completed sometime before 1904 as part of a proposed two-volume history of Augusta. At his death most of the first volume had been printed but not bound or published. For almost sixty years the uncut signatures sat in wooden crates in a descendant's house. The state librarian apparently got wind of their existence and secured a print of the diary portion for Dr. Hobart. He apologized for not having provided the full typescript promised, but he assured her that Mr. Nash had "copied the most important parts of the Journal and also made a great many important and valuable footnotes."

Hobart was gracious in her acknowledgment of the gift, though obviously disappointed.

I am greatly indebted to your untiring zeal in obtaining and sending this reprint to me. Of course in its modern setting I miss the old-time paper, the quaint penmanship and especially the marginal notes which stated the various 'rewards' my great-great-grandmother received from her patients. Also, I shall never feel certain about the completeness, as much material is doubtless omitted. But I consider my self and my descendants-or, more properly speaking,


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Page 351 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

my heirs-fortunate in the possession of so good a copy &, as you say, Mr. Nash's introduction & footnotes will add to its value.9

Much of importance had indeed been omitted from the diary. As we have seen, Nash preserved about a third of the original. He recorded the dramatic journey across the Kennebec in 1789, the passage with which we began this book, most of Martha's account of the Purrinton murders, and many of her casual references to public affairs. But he provided only an edited version of the births, salvaging genealogical but deliberately excising sexual content. He mentioned autopsies, but excluded her detailed descriptions of them, gave representative samples of her work entries, but cut or muted all references to family troubles. He omitted her description of the North rape trial and reduced to a minimum her lists of visitors, purchases, journeys, household work, gardening, and textile production.

Still, it took genuine commitment for a busy man to copy by hand hundreds of pages of an obscure diary, traveling to Boston to do so. Given the circumstances, Nash can certainly be forgiven for dropping generic references to weeding cucumbers or bleaching cloth. That he wished to preserve his own good name in the town by omitting scandal is also understandable. Unlike his nineteenth-century predecessor, he knew Martha's name and he gave her diary the prominence in his work that it had long been denied. His footnotes and index are useful, though the latter might have been more so had it included women's names as well as men's.

Nash's work deserved a better fate than it received. Although most of the first volume had been typeset and printed at the time of his death, no person then or for fifty years thereafter thought it worth completing and binding. In 1958, one of his descendants contacted the Maine State Library. The sill of the barn where the old crates were kept needed replacing. Did the State Library want to store them? Edith Hary had a better idea. With the help of two other women, she sorted through Nash's papers, collated the signatures, found a printer willing to experiment with binding the old paper, and in 1961 published The History of Augusta: First Settlements


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Page 352 Epilogue - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

and Early Days As A Town Including The Diary of Mrs. Martha Moore Ballard. "Mrs. Ballard made the difference," she explained.10

Through Hary's work, a new generation of schoolchildren scholars, and readers have discovered the diary. Still, the promise made to Mary Hobart is yet unfulfilled. Martha Ballard's diary rests safe in a vault at the Maine State Library, a monument to a remarkable life and a testimony to the fragile web that connects one generation with another.


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Page 410 Epilogue Notes - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Notes for Pages 344-350

  1. From Mary Hobart's typed history of the diary written on her personal stationery, embossed with "Dodona, Needham Heights, Massachusetts." Correspondence of Dr. Mary Forrester Hobart ... concerning presentation of the diary, MeSL. return
  2. Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy & Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1985), pp. 47-49. return
  3. Virginia G. Drachman, Hospital with a Heart: Women Doctors and the Paradox of Separatism at the New England Hospital, 1862-1969 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1984); and Morantz-Sanchez, pp. 73, 81-84, 174-176. Both authors briefly mention Mary Hobart's efforts to strengthen clinical training at the hospital. return
  4. Drachman, pp. 129-131. return
  5. Charles Green to Francis Goss, June 16, 1884, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston. Hobart first appears in the Boston street directory in 1889, at 16 Union Park. She had an office at 320 Marlboro Street by 1892 and a house at 157 Newbury St. in 1895, and had moved to 657 Boylston Street by 1902. The Boston Directory (Boston: Sampson, Murdock, and Co., 1885-1913). return
  6. 6. Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Clara Barton: Professional Angel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), pp. 4-5. return
  7. Pryor, pp. 77-99, 368. return
  8. Hobart had strong ties with her relatives, but always maintained her own residence. The house she built in Needham sometime before 1915 is still standing, having recently been renovated by a couple who knew only that the builder had been a "woman doctor." They believe a small room off the front entrance may have been an examining room. The house is in Queen Anne style, with a romantic porch off the second-story bedroom. In the process of remodeling the present owners detected what seemed to them to be wheelchair marks on the doors, leading them to believe that the first owner was either disabled or very old. Hobart was still listed as the owner of the house in 1938, and seems to have died there on March 21, 1940, at the age of 88. Annual Report of the Officers of the Town of Needham, 1915 (Brookline, Mass.: Riverdale Press, 1916), p. 357; Town of Needham and Dover, Massachusetts Directory (Bos-


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Notes: 410|411

Page 411 Epilogue Notes - A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Notes for Pages 351-352

ton: Harold Howard, 1934-1938); Town of Needham, Annual Report, 1940 (Newton: Garden City Print, 1941), p. 68; Mary Forrester Hobart Will, 96297, Norfolk County Probate Registry, Norfolk County Court House, Dedham, Massachusetts. return

  1. Mary Hobart to H. E. Dunnack, September 27, 1931, MeSL. return
  2. Preface by Edith Hary to Nash, p. vi. return


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Notes: 410|411

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