The life of women in the 18th century was much different than it is today. Woman had no legal rights, weren’t allowed to own property, hold jobs, or participate in political issues. Most women were limited to their houses to raise children and cook meals. The work of men and the work of women during the 18th century were tremendously different. The work of men was considered to be more labor intensive or if the man was educated he held a job pertaining to his education. Men did the jobs of working on the farm, at the wood mill, or clearing trees for more farm land.
In the case of Martha Ballards’ husband e would gone for weeks on end surveying the backcountry of Maine and the northeast. He also worked as a tax collector after he retired from land surveying. Also only men could hold office or participate in politics. The work of women was more orientated towards housework and the raising of the children. In Martha Ballard’s case she had five children, three of which were girls. By having this many young girls in the house her house work was considerably less, this allowed he to pursue her career as a midwife. As a midwife she took part in over a thousand deliveries, and never losing a mother.
A midwife would be considered today a physician, nurse, and pharmacists. This job took a great deal of skill and knowledge of the human anatomy. She first started her practice during the fall of 1777. During her practice she saved many of lives. The rights of women in the 18th century were basically non existent. Women could not own any form of property. They also were not allowed to take part in politics or vote. Women were considered second class citizens to men, not only legally but socially also. Woman in the 18th century had more children and were pregnant more times than woman do today.
The average American family today has 2. 5 children, the Ballard’s had five children and would have had eight if three of them wouldn’t have died in 1769. Since woman were pregnant more often each pregnancy was more dangerous than the one prior to it. Also women did not have nice hospitals with drugs and qualified doctors to go through labor, most births of children were done at the family’s’ household with the help of a midwife. Like today it was also not uncommon for a woman to become pregnant before becoming married, but in the 18th century the woman was expected to marry the father of the child with no questions asked.
On October 1, 1789 Rebecca Foster the wife of controversial Reverend Isaac Foster, swore a Rape on a number of men. One of these members of the accused was a powerful judge named Joseph North. At first Rebecca decided to keep this information to herself till she discovered that she was pregnant. This was hard to believe because Joseph was considered a supporter and friend of Isaac Foster. Joseph North was prosecuted but of course being a judge was acquitted of all charges. Not to mention that he was not even tried for rape because rape was a capital case and by reducing charges juries were more likely to convict the defendant.
During the 18th century only ten men in the whole state of Massachusetts were tried for rape. Even with the testimony of Martha Ballard saying that Rebecca Foster told her that she was raped by Judge Joseph North, he was still acquitted of all charges. This eventually led to the moving of the Fosters to Vassalboro then to Rehobeth, Maryland. For about four years after the trial Martha Ballard stopped attending church. The act of murder was a much more extreme crime no matter whom it was done to. Of course the murder of children and women has always been viewed as worse than the murder of men.
On July 9, 1806 Captain Purington murdered his entire family except one of his sons James who was seventeen escaped from him. Captain Purington also committed suicide that same night. Even though no investigation was performed, the reason behind the murder and suicide is unknown. Epidemic diseases were extremely common in 18th America. Martha Ballard herself lost three daughters in one year to Diphtheria. In her diary she speaks of treating many people for what she calls the canker rash. Today we know that this canker rash was actually scarlet fever.
A young boy named James Howard died of this canker rash in 1787. This was just one of the many epidemics that she probably faced during here time of being a midwife. Others included measles, yellow fever, smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, and cholera. Martha loses her daughter Lucy Ballard to T. B. in the year 1798 on November 8th. I would assume that death rates amongst those who were infected with these diseases were pretty high. Medical treatments during the 18th century were mediocre at best. Most remedies and medicines were basically herbal treatments and syrups made from gathered herbs.
Martha Ballard used both home grown and wild grown herbs. Most of these herbs were some form of roots, radishes, or onions. Either these objects were directly applied to skin or effected area, or they were put into syrups. The most common cure for diseases was rest. Most patients were instructed to sleep and keep fluids in them much like today’s doctors instruct patients to do. Martha Ballard left behind many remedies and treatments in her memoirs. Most of which used the application of herbs made into syrups to cure or treat diseases. In the 18th century the father of the family was the sole provider.
He was in charge of all aspects involving money, whether it was spending or aking he was held responsible. The mother of the family was in charge of all household productions. This included making of clothes, making or meals, doing laundry, raising children, education of children, and some farming duties. Some women would make a small amount of money on the side my providing services as a seamstress, or in Martha Ballards’ case a midwife. During the late 18th century in America was a transitional point in the history of family. Young adults had more freedom in choosing their spouses and were basically free from any parental negotiations.
In Martha’s iary she speaks of premarital pregnancy as a fairly common thing. This was not a problem as long as the father of the child married the mother of the child, only if this didn’t happen was their a problem. Although romance and long term dating were still not a huge part of society like they are today, most marriages were still based on economic reasons. Weddings during the 18th century were not a huge ordeal like they are today. Most of the time only immediate family members were there and the couple was married by the local reverend. In 1792 there were three marriages among the Ballard family.
Two daughters of the family and the eldest son Jonathon reluctantly married a woman because of a pending paternity suit. The community and neighbors in the 18th century were a huge part of life. You relied on your neighbor and the community almost like a family member. In Martha’s diary most of the people she helped were close neighbors that she knew well. If they weren’t neighbors they were other members of the community. You would never die alone in the 18th century; you would almost always die with someone taking care of you. The community at this time revolved a lot around the church and church life.
The author of this book used sources from the county court houses, and deeds office. She also used other historians work in order to translate some of what was written in the diary. Also the use of basic history books was used to. In the book she would often read things from the diary and not think anything of it until she researched the topic. For example when Martha writes about seeing her husbands saw mill burn down and then immediately says that her daughter Hanna turned eighteen that day would seem pretty random. When she wrote this, she was currently helping a family that had wo extremely sick children and one that just died.
That must have reminded her of when her three daughters died in 1769 of diphtheria. If the author would have over looked this event she would have never known that three other daughters existed. Also when Martha writes about going to speak with Rebecca Foster seems like an irrelevant event to record. It wasn’t until she checked court records that the author discovered that Rebecca Foster was involved in a rape trial in which Martha testified in. When I first started reading this book I began to think that I was just going to be reading a diary.
Then I realized that after the entries the author translates them and also does more in depth evaluations of them. The actual diary entries only take up a part of the book, the majority of it is consisted of the authors’ writings. Without the explanation and analysis by the author of diary entries would be hard to understand and would almost seem useless. In conclusion, the role of women in society has changed greatly over the past two hundred years. Women now have the right to own property, participate in politics, and hold jobs. Two hundred years ago these things would seem impossible to women.