Quebec Studies

Henriette, la capuche: The Portrait of a Frontier Midwife

Quebec Studies (1983), 1, (1), 130–150.

Abstract

Henriette, la c a p c h e : The Portrait of a Frontier Midwife Roger Paradis Since time immemorial, man and wormankind have shared in the relentless progress of civilization. The musty volumes of history which fill our libraries, however, are disappointingly silent on the role of women as the bearers of culture. A record of the past which ignores the cultural contribution of women must remain partial and incomplete. Midwifery must be reckoned as one of the most ancient and noble vocations, and we all owe our presence here to the intervention, at one time or another, of some kindly midwife. The oldest known discourses on midwifery in America were those of Anne Hutchinson of Puritan, Massachusetts. This was privileged information which was transmitted viva voce, and because of its private nature and associated taboos, it remained shrouded by a profound veil of mystery. The midwife became the subject of prejudice and derision, maligned by historians who were not privy to this knowledge.' In our time, she remains unstudied and unsung except in the memory of a few elderly folks. The study which follows is a modest tribute to one such humanitarian who labored on the Madawaska frontier for some three score years. She was born Henriette Blier in 1861, in Saint Alexandre, Quebec. When she was thirteen, her folks moved to the Madawaska Territory where they took up a residence in Saint Luce Parish, later named Frenchville, Maine.* At seventeen she married one Damase Pelletier and together they repaired to a back settlement home where, in nature's good time, thirteen children were born to them. All of her children were born at home, delivered by an accommodating midwife. I t was through her that she acquired the knowledge of her vocation. After a few years

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Paradis, Roger