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March 20, 1996

Catching Babies: The Professionalization of Childbirth, 1870-1920

Author Affiliations

Bryant College Smithfield, RI

JAMA. 1996;275(11):881-882. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530350063039

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Catching Babies is a meticulously researched work that examines the shift from midwife- to physician-attended births in four counties in Wisconsin between 1870 and 1920. Using information gleaned from Wisconsin's vital statistics records, midwife license applications, the Milwaukee Health Department Physicians' Register, the US Children's Bureau, census data, and contemporary medical journal articles, Charlotte G. Borst has carefully reconstructed the practice and culture of Wisconsin's midwives at the turn of the 20th century.

Borst divides the 893 midwives who form the basis of her study into three types of practitioners. "Neighbor women" from rural areas acted as occasional midwives to family members and friends. For these rural midwives, who attended six or fewer births a year, midwifery was part of the "strategy of neighborliness." A second group of practitioners, "apprentice-trained midwives," learned their craft from older, more experienced midwives or from local physicians. Finally, "school-educated midwives," who were overwhelmingly first