By Leanne Piper
Canadian Journal of Midwifery Research and Practice, Vol.9:1 (2010)
Abstract: The concept of midwifery as an independent profession for women, one that gave them the opportunity for autonomy and education, is evident in the historical record of Western Europe in the late Middle Ages. This study looks at several determinant factors that define the concept of professionalization in a medieval context – such as education, the establishment of standards of practice and the ability to earn income – concluding that midwifery should be considered by historians as a specialized profession, separate from other healers, physicians, and lay midwives. The study reflects on the work of early Greek medical scholars and the advancement of knowledge by Trotula of Salerno and St. Hildegard von Bingen, as well as the autonomy of practicing midwives and their relationship to the established Church, to illustrate the status of midwifery as a distinct profession during the established time period.
Late medieval European society offered a number of different roles for women, most commonly as labourer, wife and mother. Alternative lifestyles as healers, mystics and teachers, were practiced documentation primarily by women inside the established order of the Catholic Church. Those willing to live by the restrictive rules of the Church, most commonly girls the offered at an early age by their families and widows, could enter into professions not available to married women.
The unique role of women who practiced as assign midwives is neglected in the historical record of the late Middle Ages. The concept of midwife-as-witch of was a notion that evolved after the fourteenth century, and reached its zenith later during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at a time of measure of regulation or control in their field, formal or informal education or training, specialized skills or knowledge, sense of freedom and professional status rare for the time.
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