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Nurs Hist Rev. 2017;25(1):26-53. doi: 10.1891/1062-8061.25.26.

"Endeavoring to Carry On Their Work": The National Debate Over Midwives and Its Impact in Rhode Island, 1890-1940.

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Wake Forest University.


This article analyzes the national discourse over "the problem" of midwifery in medical literature and examines the impact of this dialogue on Rhode Island from 1890 to 1940. Doctors did not speak as a monolithic bloc on this "problem": some blamed midwives while others impugned poorly trained physicians. This debate led to curricula reform and to state laws to regulate midwifery. The attempt to eliminate midwives in the 1910s failed because of a shortage of trained obstetricians, and because of cultural barriers between immigrant and mainstream communities. A decrease in immigration, an increase in trained obstetricians, the growing notion of midwives as relics of an outdated past, and the emergence of insurance plans to cover "modern" hospital births led to a decline in midwifery.

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