Cruikshank, Isaac (Scottish, 1756-1811)

A Man-Midwife

Reference Type:
c. 1795
Before the eighteenth century, men were rarely involved in facilitating childbirth. The change came about through the nobility’s preference for physician-assisted delivery and advancement in the knowledge of physiology, which led to the belief that the process was now too complicated for traditional midwives to handle. Nonetheless, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were strident debates about the appropriateness of men delivering babies. This print was from a book against it, showing horrible, huge, painful instruments on the man’s side, and a more comfortable, carpeted, homey space on the woman’s. The caption is even more aggressive: “A Man-Mid-Wife or a newly discovered animal, not Known in Buffon’s time; for a more full description of this Monster, see, an ingenious book, lately published price 3/6 entitled, Man-Midwifery Dissected, containing a variety of well authenticated cases elucidating this animal’s Propensities to crudity and indecency sold by the publisher of this Print who has presented the Author with the Above for a Frontispiece to his Book.” These life cycle events had been under women’s supervision for millennia, and the question of who was in charge of women’s reproductive cycles had implications for gender authority—who is in charge of women? As OB-GYN gained ascendency, men began to announce norms for women’s sexual and reproductive behaviors, including the learned opinion that education depleted women’s reproductive vitality. Use of anesthesia and instrumentation created ambiguity about childbirth—is it medical condition or a natural condition? To some extent this issue remains, and creates tension between some midwives and obstetricians. Notes by Dr. Linda Pessar and Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
Art of Medicine
Women's Health
Clement C. Fry Collection of Medical Prints, Yale University, New Haven