The Mistress, the Midwife, and the Medical Doctor: pregnancy and childbirth on the plantations of the antebellum American South, 1800-1860

Tunc T. E.

WOMENS HISTORY REVIEW, vol.19, no.3, pp.395-419, 2010 (AHCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 19 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/09612025.2010.489348
  • Journal Indexes: Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.395-419
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


This article represents a step towards examining the relationship between three key figures in the antebellum American South: the plantation mistress, the slave-midwife, and the professional male physician. It elucidates how the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, which brought women close to death, formed the basis of a deeper, positive relationship between the black and white women of the antebellum South, and assesses the ways in which the professionalization of medicine affected this reproductive bond. Evaluating such a complicated network of relationships necessitates dissecting numerous layers of social interaction, including black and white women's shared cultural experiences and solidarity as reproductive beings; the role, power, and significance of slave-midwives and other enslaved caretakers in white plantation births; the cooperation between pregnant bondswomen and plantation mistresses; and the impact that the burgeoning profession of medicine had on the procreative union between antebellum black and white women.