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Publisher's Summary

Drawing on the diaries of one woman in 18th-century Maine, this intimate history illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.

Between 1785 and 1812, a midwife and healer named Martha Ballard kept a diary that recorded her arduous work (in 27 years she attended 816 births) as well as her domestic life in Hallowell, Maine. On the basis of that diary, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich gives us an intimate and densely imagined portrait, not only of the industrious and reticent Martha Ballard but of her society. At once lively and impeccably scholarly, A Midwife's Tale is a triumph of history on a human scale.

©1990 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A truly talented historian unravels the fascinating life of a community that is so foreign, and yet so similar to our own." ( New York Times)

What listeners say about A Midwife’s Tale

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

drew me in

It was slow going at first, but grabbed me a couple chapters in and didn't let go. Great narration, fascinating history, and I absolutely fell in love with Martha. Will probably listen again in a couple years.

6 people found this helpful

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new England history

amazing history for women & our for father's in general. she was an amazing women. So glad I got to know about what they all went through as a community.

2 people found this helpful

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A Historian's History for the Ages

This book is absolutely remarkable in the depth of the research, the conciseness of the prose, and the intimacy of the story. Ulrich uses Martha Ballard's diary as a springboard for exploring a multitude of topics, including gender roles, economic Independence, religious dissent, the psychological impact of an axe murder, and the singular contribution of just one woman who was doing her best. This book is the ideal monograph and invaluable tool to all aspiring historians and diarists alike. For my part, I was inspired to start keeping my own diary and return to the primary source research I have neglected since college. I cannot recommend this book enough!

1 person found this helpful

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Insights into 18th C life worth initial profusion of dense detail.

Ulrich’s contextualization of Martha Ballard’s life and times is a virtuoso interweaving of hundreds of related primary source and a rich, deep understanding of the time period. I found the minutiae a bit dense at times, but the narrative payoff was well worth a bit of patience. I was fascinated by the analysis of 18th century courtship, marriage, religion, physical and sexual assault, murder, suicide, legal structures, debtors prison, etc. And then there is the midwifery!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Diary reveals hidden Maine history

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's elegant and detailed account of life in 17th century Maine is based on the diary of Martha Ballard, a busy midwife family leader, and farm wife. Times, places personalities, and lifestyle come to vivid life as the author mingles excerpts from the actual diary and solid historical research for a compelling saga.

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A cherished slice of history

As an 18th century living historian, to have this documentation is priceless. Yes hard to follow at times, Some wording is not in the modern words we currently know. Excellent reference book for anyone with a love of 18th century New England.

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slow story

very slow story line, I didn't get past chapter two. This was not for me and I love mother baby.

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Insightful and Surprising

A revealing and intimate look at the past that gets away from the back rooms and battlefields of most works of history.

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Dissertation

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

This book appears to be the writer's dissertation. It is slow and boring. I wish I could have returned it.

Has A Midwife’s Tale turned you off from other books in this genre?

No

What didn’t you like about Susan Ericksen’s performance?

I actually don't enjoy her voice at all.