Childbirth in the present day United States is becoming increasingly scrutinized as women question why a once natural process is now so medicalized and impersonal. Prior to its medicalization in the twentieth-century, women practiced birth within the confines of their own home surrounded by the women that loved them. To transform this potentially deadly event, they created social traditions that resulted in a powerful network of female support with midwives serving as the knowledgeable medical professional. This thesis questions why these female practices of birth shifted as the United States entered the 1900s from the control of trusted female friends and midwives to the hands of male medical practitioners in order to understand the discontent of women today. Physicians used their social power as professionally educated White men to convince women that birth was a process in need of medical attention. This thesis contends that male physicians overemphasized their medical advancement to draw women to the care a doctor as opposed to a traditional midwife could provide. However, to do so they had to undermine female power and knowledge in the birthing chamber despite the validity of many of these women’s practices. For this reason, birth today has been stripped of its emotional and cultural context, leaving women feeling powerless to the control of her obstetrician. This study concludes that women’s experiences of birth today could greatly benefit from the integration of social practices of the past alongside the biomedical care available today.
Summay, Collier B., "From the Hands of Midwives to the Forceps of Men: The Medicalization of Birth in Early 20th Century United States" (2019). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 8449.
Arts and Humanities
Childbirth, midwives, medical history
Bachelor of Arts
Senior Independent Study Thesis
© Copyright 2019 Collier B. Summay