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Monstrous Births, Powerful Midwives: Women as Healers in Puritan Boston

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Boston Public Library (Rabb Hall)

700 Boylston Street

Boston, MA 02116

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Women in 17th century Boston healed the sick and cared for the wounded. They alone served as midwives, overseeing the dramatic, life-or-death moment of childbirth. In this way, women had a great deal of power.

But their power was only in private. In public, women were powerless. They could not vote, speak in public, hold property, hold public office, or sign legal documents.

And even in private, women were often suspected of threatening the social order. Midwives, who were widely respected, were frequently blamed if things went wrong, such as when “monsters” were born, with birth defects, or babies or mothers died. Governor John Winthrop, for instance, described a stillborn with congenital defects as having “horns and claws [and] scales,” and causing the bed to shake. To him this was evidence that the infant’s mother or midwife were witches, allies of the Devil.

Join renowned historian Eve LaPlante as she guides us into the world of midwives, female healers, and “monstrous births.” Learn how Puritans viewed women’s power and women’s bodies, in this life and in the afterlife.

Space is limited for this popular annual event, so an RSVP at https://puritans2017_bpl.eventbrite.com is recommended.

About Eve LaPlante

Eve LaPlante is the author of many articles and essays, and five nonfiction books, including American Jezebel, a portrait of LaPlante’s ancestor, the colonial heretic and founding mother Anne Hutchinson. LaPlante won the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction for Salem Witch Judge, her biography of the 1692 judge who in his repentance became a feminist and abolitionist.

About Medicine and Mortality in 17th-Century Boston

Every fall, in honor of the naming of Boston, the Partnership of Historic Bostons hosts a series of free events exploring an intriguing aspect of Puritan life. This year’s theme is Medicine and Mortality in 17th-Century Boston. To see a list of the entire series of FREE events, please visit our website at http://www.historicbostons.org.

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Boston Public Library (Rabb Hall)

700 Boylston Street

Boston, MA 02116

View Map

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