Friday, March 10, 2023

Call (Number for) the Midwife

Childbirth depicted in Ruff's De Conceptu
We have a lot of really amazing guides to midwifery in our collections. They are fascinating--all written by "expert" men for the use of women assisting other women in childbirth and tending to many of their other medical needs. There is a weird vibe to them: you always get the feeling the users of the books were better informed than the producers.

Reproductive system from Ruff's De Conceptu
Today we show off two of our favorites from the 16th century. The first is Jakob Rüff's De Conceptu et Generatione Homminis (Frankfurt, 1580). We love this one for the images. The reproductive system looks like a plant producing a fruit--that seems fitting with a lot of early metaphors for reproduction. But it also has a great image of a birth. You'll notice the mother is being attended by a midwife, and off to the side are two gentlemen studying the stars to determine the child's fate. Good thing it was nighttime!

Title page to Birth of Mankind
The second is one of those survivals that gives you tingles. It was owned by two different midwives. Susan Aylett laid claim to it on the title page, and Elizabeth Fiss used the back flyleaves of our copy of Thomas Raynalde's The Birth of Mankind (London, 1565) as a record of births. She has listed each in the name of the father not the mother, for example, "Thomas Lucas his wife of" followed by three hash marks. There is also a big fat inky thumbprint on in the margins of the "Prologue to the women readers." We're dying to know if that was just a sloppy mistake in the printing office or if Elizabeth or Susan or left more evidence of their lives behind in this book. 

Midwife's notes in back of Birth of Mankind

Thumbprint in Birth of Mankind
To see them, ask for Rare RG91 .R27 and Rare RG91 .R9.