Medicalizing Childbirth in the 18th Century through the Illustrated Obstetric Anatomy Atlases of William Smellie and William Hunter




Hoge, Geordyn

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In the eighteenth century, the unanimous and uncontested authority of female midwives over the birth ritual was subjugated to the emerging profession of the male obstetric physician, which brought with it a new understanding of birth as a medical process. This thesis analyzes the influence of two English illustrated obstetric anatomy atlases, A sett of anatomical tables, with explanations, and an abridgment, of the practice of midwifery by William Smellie and The anatomy of the human gravid uterus exhibited in figures by William Hunter, on this social movement. First, this essay locates the atlases in the broader professional and social history of obstetric care and in the artistic development of anatomic imagery of women. Then, the images, text, and author’s biography of each atlas is analyzed for its impact on the professionalization of the “man midwife”, as the profession would later be called, and on the medical understanding of childbirth.