Labour History

Present at the Birth: Midwives, ‘Handywomen’ and Neighbours in Rural New South Wales, 1850-1900

Labour History (2001), 81, (1), 13–28.

Abstract

The pattern of assistance to women giving birth in rural Australia from 1850 to 1900 is investigated in this article.1 In the nineteenth century women assisted each other or called on ‘handywomen’ or midwives who had experience in confinements while doctors also acted in this capacity in more populated districts. Data from the civil registration of births is used to analyse the pattern of attendance at births of non-Aboriginal women in one rural area, Dungog and the Upper Williams Valley, New South Wales. The author explores the question of who was present at the delivery and assisted at the birth and concludes that about half the births were attended by women who gained a definite role in the community as midwife or ‘handywoman’ while the remainder were attended by female neighbours or relatives, a situation which was often reciprocated. Women attending births usually did this in a voluntary capacity although for a very few women this would have been an income-earning activity.

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Details

Author details

Strachan, Glenda

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