WGS250H5 Chapter Notes -Barbara Ehrenreich

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31 Mar 2012
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Exorcising the Midwives- Barbara Ehrenreich and Diedre English
>Describes how in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Western medicine
took away power, authority, and a livelihood from midwives and women healers in
favour of mostly male physicians
>1900- 50% of babies born still being delivered by midwives
>Middle and upper class women had long since accepted medical idea of childbirth as
a pathological event requiring intervention and supervision of a physician
>“lower” half of society which clung to the midwife- rural poor and the immigrant
working class in cities
>Early 20th century midwife was an integral part of her community and culture
>The problem, according to medical leaders, was that the midwife was in the way of
development of modern institutional medicine
>One of the reforms advanced by medicine’s scientific elite was that students should
be exposed somewhere along the line to live patients
oOnly choice was the people who had no choice- the poor; medical schools bgan
to associate themselves with parasitically to the nearest “charity” hospital- the
medical school offered its medical trainees as staff for the hospital and in
return got bodies of the sick poor to “practice” on
>Obstetrics-gynecology was america’s fastest growing specialty and midwives would
have to get ouf of the way
>Public campaign against midwives was couched in terms of the most benevolent
concern for the midwives’ clientele
>Midwives were “hopelessly dirty, ignorant, and incompetent, relics of a barbaric past”
>Midwives generally seen as “un-American”; elimination of midwife presented as a
necessary part of general campaign to uplift and Americanize the immigrants
>Obvious remedy for shortcomings of midwives was education and some system of
accountability or supervision
>The doctors were not prepared to take over the once midwives were eliminated
oThere wasn’t enough obstetricians in the States to serve the masses of poor
and workling-class women
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