Cathy McCliveDec 5, 2022
The Art of Childbirth
A Seventeenth-Century Midwife's Epistolary Treatise to Doctor Vallant
Iter Press 2022
Cathy McClive (Florida State University) offers the first full-length bilingual edition of an extraordinary treatise on childbirth written by a seventeenth-century French midwife in The Art of Childbirth: A Seventeenth-Century Midwife's Epistolary Treatise to Doctor Vallant (University of Toronto Press, 2022). In 1671, Marie Baudoin (1625-1700), head midwife and governor of the Hôtel-Dieu of Clermont-Ferrand, sent a treatise on the art of childbirth to her powerful Parisian patron, Dr. Vallant. The story of how Baudoin's knowledge and expertise as a midwife came to be expressed, recorded, and archived raises the question: Was Baudoin exceptional because she was herself extraordinary, or because her voice has reached us through Vallant's careful archival practices? Either way, Baudoin's treatise invites us to reconsider the limits of what we thought we knew midwives "could be and do" in seventeenth-century France. Grounding Marie Baudoin's text in a microanalysis of her life, work, and the Jansenist network between Paris and Clermont-Ferrand, this book connects historiographies of midwifery, Jansenism, hospital administration, public health, knowledge and record-keeping, and women's work, underscoring both Baudoin's capabilities and the archival accidents and intentions behind the preservation of her treatise in a letter.
Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.