Midwifery as the first official profession of women in Russia, 18th to early 20th centuries

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The authors study the institutionalization of midwife specialization among women in Russia in the period from the 18th through the early 20th centuries. The main sources are legislative acts, clerical documents, as well as reports on the activities of medical institutions and maternity departments. The authors use the approaches of gender history, and the concept of professionalization as developed by E. Freidson. Midwifery was the first area of women’s work that was officially recognized by the state. There were three main stages on the way to professionalizing the midwifery profession among women. The first stage (covering the 18th century) is associated with attempts to study and systematize the activities of midwives. The practical experience of midwifes was actively sought by doctors whose theoretical knowledge was limited. The second stage of professionalization (corresponding to the first half of the 19th century) was associated with the normative regulation of midwife work and the formation of a professional hierarchy in midwifery. The third stage (comprising the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century) saw a restriction of the midwives’ spheres of activity, as well as the active inclusion of male doctors in practical obstetrics and their rise to a dominant position. With the development of obstetric specialization, operative obstetrics, and the opening of maternity wards, midwives were relegated to a subordinate position in relation to doctors. In contrast to the United States and Western European countries, Russia did not have professional associations of midwives. Intra-professional communication was weak, and there was no corporate solidarity. In Soviet medicine, finally, the midwives’ subordinate place in relation to doctors was only cemented.

About the authors

Natalia A. Mitsyuk

Smolensk State Medical University

Author for correspondence.
Email: mitsyuk.natalia@gmail.com

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Associate Professor of the Department of History of Medicine, Bioethics

28 Krupskaya St., Smolensk, 214019, Russia

Anna V. Belova

Tver State University; Center for Gender Studies, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after N.N. Mikloukho-Maklay, Russian Academy of Science

Email: Belova.AV@tversu.ru

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Head of the Department of General History, Tver State University; Leading Researcher, Center for Gender Studies, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after N.N. Mikloukho-Maklay RAS

16/31 Tryokhsvyatskaya St., Tver, 170100, Russia; 32a Leninsky Av., Moscow, 119991, Russia


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