Midwifery And Medicine In Early Modern France
By Louise Bourgeois and Wendy Perkins
Louise Bourgeois was midwife to Maria of Medici, Queen of France, from 1601 to 1609, and the first woman in modern times to write about what she calls her "art". This book gives an account of her life, and then goes on to analyse her theories about the workings of the human body in her own particular sphere, before concentrating on her advice about handling the delivery of a child (especially where it was problematic), her relationships with her clients and the way she uses them in case histories, her relations with some of the medical men of her time, and her recipes for a whole range of medical conditions in her book entitled Recueil des secrets.
The study argues that Bourgeois was an educated, skilled midwife, very alive to the encroachment of medical men into an area which had always been the preserve of women. It shows that she had no scruples in attacking incompetent male pracitioners, and that she argued fiercely in her books that all practitioners, whatever their speciality, and whether their expertise was in academic theory or practical skills, should receive the recognition they deserved.
Contents: Life of Louise Bourgeois; Bourgeois's anatomical and physiological theories; delivery of a child; Bourgeois's relationship with her clients; midwife and medical men; the "Recueil des Secrets"; conclusion; notes.
"Louise Bourgeois was an important figure, in her lifetime and beyond, and her writings offer an unusual insight into an aspect of health care that is often difficult for historians to examine. Her works have many stories to tell, about the circumstances of women's work and self-expression, about midwifery and childbirth. This book should herald the revival of Bourgeois scholarship …"
(Social History of Medicine, Vol. II, No. 3, 1998)
"Wendy Perkins has written an excellent account of the work, writings and career of Louise Bourgeois, who had a flourishing midwifery practice at the French royal court at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Bourgeois was notable as a successful and articulate woman practitioner and author. . . Perkins, who is an expert on French literature, has integrated into her account recent work of social historians on medicine: on the medical market place, on patient-doctor relations, especially between women and medical practitioners, and on the social construction of the body. She does so with skill and modesty."
(Medical History, Vol. 42, April 1998)
Wendy Perkins is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Birmingham.