Midwives Behaving Badly?: Complaints against Lying-In Charity Staff, c.1800-1834

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post on complaints against midwives in the nineteenth century is contributed by historian Megan Webber.

On the afternoon of 31 December 1804 —as an old year died away— Elizabeth Edwards struggled to bring forth new life into her humble London lodgings. Respectable but poor, Mrs. Edwards was a beneficiary of an outpatient maternity charity, the Lying-In Charity. This entitled her to the assistance of a charity midwife and, with the onset of her labour pains, she sent her husband running for Mrs. Turnley. When Mr. Edwards got to the midwife’s house, he found that she was busy, but she assured him that “she would come presently.” She did not arrive soon enough, however, and Mr. Edwards was dispatched a second time. Mrs. Turnley made her appearance soon afterwards and delivered a baby within an hour. The Edwards family later complained to the charity that Mrs. Turnley had been “much in liquor” and had injured the new mother.[1]

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Poverty, Poor-relief, and Charity in Long Eighteenth-Century Britain (c.1688-1832)

Submitted by Megan Webber, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire, UK.

Key words: charities, lying-in hospitals, poor-relief

Historians of poverty, poor-relief, and charity in long eighteenth-century Britain (c.1688-1832) have defined plebeian “agency” in multiple ways. My PhD dissertation aims to provide a nuanced picture of agency within early nineteenth-century London charities, exploring how individual charities’ unique blends of discourse, policy, management, spatial arrangement, and situation within broader networks of relief affected how, and under what conditions, the poor exerted their influence.

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