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A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 Paperback – June 4, 1991
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A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
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You feel like you go back in time and live this. I never understood just how hard it was to simply put food on the table for the average American. Life was about survival. It is so easily understood and felt in the book.
With the help of collateral documents, Ulrich fills out Ballard's entries to give a more complete view of society in a milling village of the early 1800's. She also tracks Ballard's personal fortunes from the height of her prestige into eventual decline. The author takes pains to point out how much of this misfortune was inevitable (the elderly of any era are of necessity pushed from the center to the circumference of society) and how much was due to the hand dealt by fate: Martha had her daughters before her sons; the girls married and moved out, leaving their mother the care of three rather loutish males. The episode underscores how necessary a reliable pool of labor was to the running of any rural household; southern families had their slaves; northern families had their daughters. Historian John Lewis Gaddis calls this book "an exercise in historical paleontology [that] succeeds brilliantly." Winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for history.
Although I have enjoyed the book, I think one would need to have a high interest in either medicine of that time or general life in Revolutionary America. Absent that, I think you'd find the book rather tedious. All in all, it's an amazing story of an amazing woman. I liked it!