A 19th Century Man-Midwife
A couple of months ago we acquired a wonderful donation in the form of two books written by Dr Philip Lawrence Hill in the 1800s. One, written in 1824 appears to be a completely hand-transcribed copy of a medical book. The other is a case register of a doctor and man-midwife covering all the births he attended through his career from 1825 to 1851 along with a selection of recipes and notes from 23 midwifery lectures attended in 1824.
In the 1820s midwifery was considered largely a woman’s job. There had been a rise in the ‘man-midwife’ in the 1700s, especially with the advent of instruments such as forceps. However, this was largely with the middle and upper classes and it was mostly still female midwives who attended births. This midwife was a trained doctor, but one who trained in and took a specific interest in midwifery, which was not necessarily a usual course of action at the time.
This book lists all the births he attended over the course of his career, including those of his own wife and other family members. There are mentions of difficult births such as retained placentas, premature births and still births.
It is a fascinating insight into births at the time, for example in the use of drugs during childbirth. There are many mentions of the use of Ergot to prevent postpartum haemorrhage. Ergot was commonly used to expel the placenta and contract the uterus. Whilst the earliest evidence of its use in childbirth was around 1582, it was certainly not frequently used until the mid-1800s. Examples of cases in which it was used can be seen in the below entries.
Women are regularly recorded in the register under their husband’s name, such as ‘John Fry’s Wife’ or ‘Mrs Thomas Hill’ along with the husband’s profession even in some cases. Even his own wife is recorded as ‘Mrs P L Hill’. The couple themselves had nine children, 6 of whom died in childhood.
As well as the register of cases there are recipes for medications and tinctures, all beautifully handwritten. This example gives the recipes for a mixture to ‘produce stools from a New Born Infant’ as well as ‘a very excellent and pleasant Draught to be given to women who suffer from after pains after labour is over’.