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“A Midwife’s Tale” by Ulrich Essay

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Updated: Feb 3rd, 2022

In A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, famous historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich discusses the life experience of an American midwife, Martha Ballard. Martha Ballard is a real historical character whose life years are 1734 to 1812. In Ulrich’s opus, the audience may find a coherent and cohesive description of the lifestyle common in New England at the end of the XVIII century. Besides, the author pays special attention to the distinction between the roles of men and women in the American society of those days. Overall, evaluating the stories that can be found in Ulrich’s book, a conclusion can be made that during Ballard’s life period, women traditionally had the role of housewives and hearthside keepers whereas men were privileged to engage in all the other areas of human life including having interesting and rewarding jobs, participating in political affairs, and acquiring education in such important fields as law, medicine, finance, etc.

Addressing women’s role in the society of New England, as it is described by Ulrich, it should be stated that it is traditionally connected to housekeeping and caring about children. We read that women ‘deliver children’, ‘provide meals’, and ‘visit morning sermons’ (Ulrich 14, 25, 34). Looking through the accounts of Ballard’s visits to the homes of American families of that period, it is possible to see that women fulfill all the work around the house, nurse children, and are obliged to solve family problems related to food supply and keeping household in good order. Thus, women’s role is mainly seen as managing the house. With regards to the role of women in society, Ulrich mentions that it is not significant. However, some ‘rays of light in this kingdom of darkness begin to be seen as there appear some women who may occupy better working positions such as positions in health service and social care, and they may begin their own minor businesses.

Speaking about the role of men as it is described by Ulrich, it should be stated that men in general estrange themselves from any affairs related to their home and children care. Instead of spending their time at home, men have a better idea of what to do. We read:

That Martha enjoyed the very sermons Henry found objectionable had as much to do with temperament as with theology. There were self-conscious liberals in her family; her brother, Collins Moore, would be involved in the establishment of a Universalist society in Oxford in 1791, and certainly Jonathan Moore’s dismissal from his pulpit would have something to do with his arguments with ardent Calvinists in Rochester (Ulrich 107).

This quotation shows that men concentrate their interests around social affairs such as religion and politics. In addition, men enjoy their higher status in the area of law enforcement as can be seen from the case of Rebecca Foster (Ulrich 115). We also read: ‘Mrs. Foster had mentioned “abuses” by Joseph North’ (Ulrich 125). This quotation shows that men’s role in the society of New England is much weightier, and for this reason they are not afraid to be punished for committing terrible crimes against women.

In conclusion, the role of men, as it is described by Ulrich in her book, is in fulfilling the most important social obligations in the fields of law, politics, and religion; and women are traditionally bound to keeping the house and caring about children.

References

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, The United states: Vintage, 1991. Print.

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