The midwife next door: a history of Prince Edward Island midwives 1900–1950

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University of New Brunswick


Using oral history interviews collected by Prince Edward Island “pastkeeper,” Dutch Thompson, this report provides insights into the lives and practices of PEI midwives from 1900 to 1950. From the turn of the twentieth century, this report analyses the decline of home births and the rise of hospital births, which became the normal childbirth experience on PEI by the 1950s. It investigates aspects of Island midwifery such as the central roles that midwives held within their communities, their interprofessional relationships with Island doctors, and how one midwife created her own maternity home when the institutionalization of births was a growing trend. This report argues that in the rural areas of Prince Edward Island where poverty was common, the economy of mutual aid made midwives essential to the health of Islanders who could not afford doctor fees. In this favour-based economy where travelling long distances was uncommon, community members often looked to neighbour midwives for medical care, seeking to repay services with favours rather than with cash. This economy of mutual aid slowed the shift from home births to hospital births in rural areas of the Island and it also encouraged doctors to respect the role and place of midwives in the healthcare system.