Fraser, an anthropologist, documents the sad demise of the African American lay midwife. Using ethnographic and historical research methods, she chronicles the community health role of the southern African American midwife as well as birth norms within the community. She also documents the actions of the white medical, public health, and nursing professions to 'improve' birth outcomes; one such action included ridding themselves of the 'midwife problem.' Fraser focuses on one rural Virginia county during the first half of the 20th century, but she compares and contrasts her findings to research from other parts of the South, the North, and other places in the world. She reaffirms the well-documented medicalization of birthing in the US, but uniquely adds the exacerbating influence of race. Drawing on medical journal articles of the period, two sections establish the historical and political context and the accepted medical knowledge surrounding birth; a final section relates the recollections of the community itself, the midwives and the women who were cared for. Here the reader will learn much about the realities of qualitative research. Relevant to the obvious anthropological and health care communities, but also to historians and students of women's and African American studies. (M. A. Thompson Choice
This book provides an important contribution to the literature on midwifery and reproductive health care. Fraser deftly weaves ethnography, historical analysis, and findings from many studies of midwifery, pregnancy, and birth experiences to make her arguments. But the appeal of this book goes well beyond its significance for the history, anthropology, and sociology of midwifery. Scholars interested in the complex interrelationships between sexism, racism, health, and health care will also find a wealth of interesting and provocative facts here. (Beth Rushing Health
The book is highly original, includes important new research, and grapples with some of the issues at the forefront of anthropological theory. It speaks directly to an important and diverse set of audiences: scholars and students of women's studies, women's history, women's health scholarship, African-American studies, African-American health scholarship, and medical anthropology. It is a book which illustrates the complex intersections of gender, race, and class in the study of American society...This is a powerful, intriguing, and quite original book. (Rayna Rapp, New School for Social Research)
About the Author
Gertrude Jacinta Fraser is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Virginia.