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Old 01-08-2018, 09:40 AM   #1
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Diaries and Letters of Women Writing in 18th or 19th Century

I would be grateful for recommendations of books of the diaries or letters of women, particularly those written in the 1700s and 1800s.

The main aspect of their lives I'm interested in is childbirth and infant mortality. A friend, who is an historian and myself, were talking about this. I'd noticed the very pragmatic way that childbirth is dealt with in novels of this period, and how pregnancy is hardly mentioned - babies are just magically born, with only a slight reference to a "condition".

We came to the conclusion that this was a mixture of prudery and the high risk of death to both mother and child during birth and the months and early years following. Anyone who has been round an old churchyard will have seen gravestones on which are carved the names and dates of children who die in close succession.

So if you know of any diaries written by women during this period and in ebook format, please tell me.

Lots of thanks in advance.
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Old 01-08-2018, 11:07 AM   #2
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This list at goodreads, although including many modern diaries, should help you get off to a good start.


A brief search suggests that maternal mortality before the mid 1800s was around 5 per 1,000 births. That's about 50 times higher than the current rate.

The interventions of doctors in the 1800s and early 1900s actually increased the maternal mortality rate, due to lack of hygiene resulting in more deaths from sepsis.
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Old 01-09-2018, 11:36 AM   #3
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pdurrant: yes, they died from puerpural fever. Doctors would attend to women straight after examining cadavers, with no washing in between. It was probably safer to give birth at home. I would imagine most births were home births until the 1960s. My mother had all her children at home, I was born in the late '50s, at home.
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Old 01-09-2018, 12:00 PM   #4
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Having scoured that list at goodreads, I can't find any written in the correct period and by women likely to bear children. Very few were available as ebooks.
Thanks anyway.
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Old Yesterday, 06:45 PM   #5
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Topics relating to childbirth and pregnancy frequently turn up in women's diaries and letters in the 19th century but as you've discovered there aren't many available as e-books. If you don't mind reading a work by a historian, you might try Judith Walzer Leavitt's Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950 which is available for kindle. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale--also available on kindle--is based on the diary of a late 18th/early 19th century midwife; it covers a wide variety of topics in addition to childbirth and pregnancy. Sally McMillen has written a book about pregnancy and childrearing in the Old South (ca 1820-1860) but there isn't an e-book version. All three of these books were written by professional historians so you may find them a bit dry. Robert M. Myers' Children of Pride isn't available as an ebook but is a magnificent collection of family letters that cover all of the topics family members discuss, including pregnancy and childbirth. I realize that none of these books fulfills your request exactly but you might find them of interest. I'd be very interested if you find anything that is closer to your specific request so please share! Thanks.
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