American Association for the History of Medicine: Aborted Dreams and Contested Labors: Surveying Midwives in the Société Royale de Médecine's 1786 Provincial Survey

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  Aborted Dreams and Contested Labors: Surveying Midwives in the  Société Royale de Médecine’s  1786 Provincial Survey Scottie Buehler, CPM Keywords: midwifery, surveys, France   In 1786 Charles Alexandre de Calonne, Controller-General of Finances, requested surveys of midwives from all regions of France beyond Paris, which represented an expansion to the Société Royale de Médecine’s  (SRM) survey of provincial surgeons. He specifically argued that the addition of midwives to this project would increase its “perfection” as his intendants informed him of the evil that results from “midwives’ too great reliance on their abilities…and the ignorance of most of them.” 1  These common charges of incompetence and ignorance motivated the desire for government- and church- funded educational programs for midwives, but what constitutes a “proper”  education remained contested. Contrary to the dominant Anglo-centric historiography of midwifery, these surveys demonstrate that the SRM sought to bring midwives into the medical fold, not eliminate them. I use the paper trails of the data gathering process, including accompanying letters, preparatory documents, and draft forms of the surveys, to illuminate the underlying epistemological assumptions amid the wealth of demographic information  provided. The data gathering practices  —  and their failures  —  reveal the absence of a common framework, including disagreement on the goals of midwifery education and even the definition of a midwife. Thus, the varied survey responses often betray fractured concepts of midwifery throughout France. Additionally, by focusing on the data gathering process the encounters between the Parisian medical institution and provincial medical and political actors emerge, bringing into focus otherwise hidden conflicts, negotiations, and historical actors. The SRM’s  Nouveau plan de constitution pour la médecine en France  (1790) represents the result of an inference from the specifics of the survey to broader generalizations about medicine and midwifery in France. While this 1    Archives Departmentales d’Aisne C19 (Letter dated April 24, 1786).     plan failed, it created a vision for the future of midwifery under centralized control by the SRM, attempted to demarcate proper educational practices, and idealized the demographic distribution of midwives.   This paper seeks to 1) examine the concept of professionalization through a historical lens, 2) promote tolerance for ambiguity of theories, the nature of evidence, and the evaluation of research and education, and 3) recognize the dynamic interrelationship  between medicine and society through history.  
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