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Sarah Stone (active 1701-37)

Sarah Stone was the daughter of a midwife and the mother of a midwife. She epitomises the traditional nature of a profession that was to change in the 1700s. She learned her trade through skills being handed down and practical experience gained within families and among women. Unlike many contemporaries she also studied anatomy and attended female autopsies to improve her practical knowledge.

From 1703 her practice was based in Taunton, in the west of England. Stone was more skilled than the existing local midwives, and often dealt with the most difficult deliveries. Her reputation meant that within a few years she was attending around 300 births annually. Stone later moved to Bristol, where she further championed female midwives in the face of the growing influence of man-midwives. The culmination of this was her book A Complete Practice of Midwifery in 1737. It detailed skills and techniques she had developed over decades dealing with the most challenging, and very often fatal, cases.

Stone was outspoken about man-midwives. She felt female midwives could manage difficult cases on their own with the right training. She feared female midwives lost credit for their hard work when ‘the young men command all the praise’ by stepping in at the climax of the birth. Her prediction that man-midwives would increasingly be the first port of call was, in time, proved correct. Stone effectively disappeared from the historical record following the publication of her book.

 

Related links

Bibliography

I Grundy, 'Sarah Stone: Enlightenment Midwife', in R Porter, (ed.), Medicine in the Enlightenment (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995), pp 128-44

P Lieske, (ed.), Eighteenth Century Midwifery, (parts I-III) (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007)

Glossary:

Anatomy

A branch of medical science concerned with the structure of living organisms.