How did midwives deliver women in the past? What was their understanding of anatomy and physiology? How did they cope with unnatural presentations, haemorrhage, miscarriage and stillbirths, constipation? Were lives being prolonged and risks diminished? Midwifery case notes offer a considerable source of evidence, which, when used with care and imagination, help to tackle these questions. Mrs Stone & Dr Smellie demonstrates this in a fascinating way by analysing the work of two well-known midwives. Sarah Stone’s A Complete Practice of Midwifery was published in London in 1737. Mrs Stone had been a midwife in Bridgwater, Taunton and Bristol before moving to London in the late 1730s. Her book collects 43 case notes mainly from her Somerset practice. It is probably unique in providing a female midwife’s perspective on childbirth in provincial England in the eighteenth century. Although often mentioned by medical historians, literary scholars have given it most attention by reading it as a feminist text. But A Complete Practice reproduced in full within this book, is a detailed, albeit selective, account of the problems faced by midwifes, what they could do for their women, and how likely they were to succeed. William Smellie (1697-1763) occupies a pivotal position in the history of midwifery, not only in Britain, but also in the wider international community. He published a textbook in 1751 and two collections of case notes in 1754 and 1764. an analysis of the 278 London cases. Woods and Galley offer a ‘thick description’ of Smellie’s practice, the problems he faced, the people he dealt with, how he combined domiciliary clinical practice with advanced instruction, and the way in which he presented his work to a wider community for their enlightenment. Compulsory reading for those working on the history of medicine and midwifery, demography and social history, Mrs Stone and Dr Smellie is an engaging final study by the late internationally-renowned scholar Professor Robert Woods, FBA.
Previous publications by Robert Woods: WOODS R I (1979) Population Analysis in Geography, London: Longman, 288pp. WHITE P E and WOODS R I (eds) (1980) The Geographical Impact of Migration, London:Longman, 245pp. WOODS R I (1982) Theoretical population geography, London: Longman, 235pp. WOODS R I and WOODWARD J H [eds](1984) Urban disease & Mortality in nineteenthcentury England, London: Batsford, 250pp. WOODS R I and REES P H (1986) Population structures and models, London: George Allen & Unwin, 520pp. WOODS R I (1992) The population of Britain in the Nineteenth Century, London: Macmillan for the Economic History Society; re-published by Cambridge University Press, 1995) 88pp. NOIN D and WOODS R I [eds] (1993) The Changing Population of Europe, Oxford: Blackwell, 250pp. WOODS R I and SHELTON N (1997) An Atlas of Victorian Mortality, Liverpool: LiverpoolUniversity Press, 190pp. WOODS R I (2000) The Demography of Victorian England and Wales, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 492. WOODS R I (2006) Children remembered:responses to untimely death in the past,Liverpool University Press & The University of Chicago Press, pp. 300. GARRETT E, GALLEY C, SHELTON N and WOODS R I (eds) (2007) Infant Mortality: a continuing social problem, Aldershot: Ashgate,312pp. WOODS R I (2009) Death before birth: fetal health & mortality in historical perspective, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 312pp
The case-notes are fascinating if sometimes rather gruesome reading, admirably set in context and interestingly discussed. The analysis is meticulous, insightful and wide-ranging even if I do not agree with all of the conclusions, and the book is an extremely valuable addition to the literature, particularly for a very welcome consideration of outcomes as well as the development of knowledge and practice.