Martha Ballard began keeping a diary in 1785. She was fifty years old at the time. Martha was, of course, a housewife. The reason we have her diaries, I believe, is that she was also a healer and a midwife. She wrote her last entry in 1812, prior to her death at seventy seven. In the record she kept we know that she attended 814 deliveries in and around the Kennebec River towns of Hallowell and Augusta, Maine.
In her writing we find her walking through a “doleful storm” or being waist-high in the snow. She had to cross the river many times in many kinds of weather often at peril for her own life. Martha records in her own words, the illnesses she cured or treated from colic to scarlet fever.
Martha was an original woman for her time. Very few women documented their thoughts and activities at this point in history. She records things that are happening to her immediate family also. Her husband was thrown into debtors prison. She brought him food and tried to be as supportive as possible. She also documents how she helped her daughters with their babies. She had a violent son and expresses her worries about him. Martha brewed beer, grew twenty types of vegetables and fruit, pulls flax, doctors the cow and lamb, cooks, bakes, and raises medicinal herbs. In the bigger picture, she documents everything from the quilting bees and the kindness of neighbors. And from incest to murder. She records feeling fatigue deeper than the river she so often crosses to heal others. She says there are days she can hardly lift her head off of the pillow.
She records an incident when she and her husband were awakened at three am. Neighbors were spreading the horrible news than Captain Purington had murdered his entire family except for his son, James. It seems that James was able to escape after his father tried to kill him. He did suffer an ax wound. Martha’s son went to check on the family and it was found that the wife was still alive…barely. She was nursed back to health gradually and survived this terrible experience. She writes, ” May an infinityly good God grant that we may all take a suitable notis of this horrid deed.” She also adds, “Good Christians can learn wisdom even from terror.”
Historians have noted and widely discussed how an eighteenth-century system of cooperation between midwives and physicians gave way to the medical exclusiveness exemplified in a treatise on women not being allowed in the medical profession. The history of American medicine in the nineteenth century is the story of a long argument over how allowing women to continue to practice midwifery or any other form of healing. deprived male physicians of the experience they needed and at the same time perpetuated the notion that uneducated people could safely care for the sick.
For every woman, who like Martha, documented her life and profession, many just served their communities and I will stress that none of them were paid. They were women after all. Some times they were given a chicken or a dozen of eggs. Martha also records that one out of every twenty four children born, died. These are pretty impressive stats for the time and the conditions the women had to work in.
All of you, my readers, can go to libraries to find journals and diaries of women who stood up and out in your countries. These amazing women were not just American, but can be found everywhere in the world. This is why we have to add Herstory to History. This is why we should never allow themselves to feel less than. We are equal and we won’t stop working until every woman in every country is equal to the men in said country.