To Dr. ------ An Anſwer to his Queries, concerning the Colledg of Midwives.
To anſwer your Query, Doctor, Whether ever there were a Colledg of Midwives in any part of the World? According to my Promiſe made the 12th Inſtant, I will now prove, there was ſome Hundreds, if not Thouſands of Years before you can prove one of Phyſicians: As appears both by Sacred and Prophane Hiſtories. I will begin with the firſt; and deſire you to read the firſt Chapter of Exodus.
Verſ. 15. And the King of Egypt ſpake to the Hebrew Midwives, of which the Name of the one was Shiprah, and the other Puah.
Verſ. 16. And he ſaid unto them, When ye do the Office of a Midwife to the Hebrew Women, and ſee them upon the Stooles; if it be a Son, you ſhalt kill him: but if it be a Daughter, then ſhe ſhall live.
Verſ. 17. But the Midwives feared God, and did not as the King of Egypt commanded them, but ſaved the Men Children alive.
Verſ. 20. Wherefore God dealt well with the Midwives: and the People multiplied, and waxed very mighty.
Verſ. 21. And it came to paſs, becauſe the Midwives feared God, that he made them Houſes.
I believe no Rational Perſon will think that theſe two Women could in their own Perſons act as Midwives to all the Women of that mighty People, who about 100 Years after went up A out 2 A1v 2 out of Egypt 600000 Fighting Men, beſides Women and Children, and a great mixt Multitude, but rather that they were the Governeſſes and Teachers of other Midwives, which could not be a few; and as I am informed by a Learned Rabbi, now in Town, their Names ſignify the ſame.
And the Apoſtle ſaith, That God built them Houſes, and bleſſed them.
Now if it were, as ſome think, that theſe were not Iſraelites but Egyptians, appointed Governeſſes over ſuch as ſhould aſſiſt the Hebrew Women, who by Converſation among them learned the knowledg of the only true God, and fearing him, did not impoſe thoſe bloody Orders of deſtroying the Males.
Then it was plain that the Government of that Art was regular, under Superiours, as the Magi and Prieſthood of that Nation was, and muſt have ſome certain place for conſulting in, from whence they might iſſue their Directions. Which, by your leave, Doctor, without Abſurdity in the Language of theſe Times, might well be called a Colledg.
But for the Piety of the Ruling Midwives God built them Houſes: that is, they were Incorporated into the Body of the Jews, and reckoned Honourable Families among them: As Rahab and others for their ſingular Service to that Nation afterward were. Which Families of the Faithful Midwives, ſome Hebrews ſay, continue in Honour among them at Theſſalonica to this Day.
And ſuch a favour from God of building Houſes for them, we do not read the Phyſicians ever received; nor was Phyſick then a regular Study, nor brought under Government in that Learned Nation of Egypt, in Herodotus his time, which put together, proves the Antiquity of the Midwives Government ſo much antienter than that of the Doctors.
For your further Satisfaction be pleaſed to read Origen his 11th Homily upon Exodus, which will inform you, that Shiprah and Puah were not only the Governeſses of the Midwives, but alſo Women of Great Learning, and excellently skill’d 3 A2r 3 skill’d in Phyſick, which was then practiſed by Women to Women.
And you cannot deny at our laſt Conference, but that Hippocrates ſwears by Apollo and Eſcalapius, and by Hygea and Panacea the Gods and Goddeſſes of Phyſick: And pray, Doctor, who were the Gods and Goddeſſes of Antiquity, but Men and Women, who firſt found out and taught Arts and Myſteries ſo beneficial to Mankind, as made them think they could not but be guided by a Divine Spirit to the knowledg of things ſo uſeful and ſo far above the Vulgar Capacities? This? Hippocrates is ſo ingenuous as to confeſs, and doth not part the Gods and Goddeſſes, but had them in equal Veneration, as appears by his Oath, to which I refer you, becauſe I perceive you have forgot it; For he ſwears he will not cut thoſe that have the Stone, but will leave it to the skilful in that Practice. But you, tho you underſtand nothing of it, pretend to teach us an Art much more difficult (And which ought to be kept a Secret amongſt Women as much as is poſſible.)
’Tis true among the ſubtile Athenians, ſome Phyſicians being gotten into the Government, and Miſcarriages happening to ſome Noble Women about that time, they obtain’d a Law, that for the future no Woman ſhould ſtudy or practiſe any part of Phyſick on pain of Death. This Law continued ſome time, during which many Women periſhed, both in Child bearing, and by private Diſeaſes; their Modeſty not permitting them to admit of Men either to Deliver or Cure them.
Till God ſtirred up the Spirit of Agnodicea, a Noble Maid, to pity the miſerable condition of her own Sex, and hazard her Life to help them, which to enable her ſelf to do, ſhe cut off her Hair, Apparelled her ſelf like a Man, and became the Scholar of Hyrophilus the moſt Famous Phyſician of that Time, and having learn’d the Art, ſhe found out a Woman that had long languiſh’d under private Diſeaſes, and made proffer of her Service to cure her, which the ſick Perſon refuſed, thinking her A2 to 4 A2v 4 to be a Man; but when Agnodicea had diſcovered that ſhe was a Maid, the Woman committed her ſelf into her Hands, who cured her perfectly: And after her many others with the like Skill and Induſtry. So that in a ſhort time ſhe became the Succeſsful and Beloved Phyſician of the whole Sex, none but ſhe being called to aſſiſt them.
This ſo incenſed the Phyſicians that they conſpired her Ruin, ſaying ſhe ſhaved off her Beard to abuſe the Women, who feigned themſelves Sick to enjoy her Company; and there being Witneſſes to be found then (as of late Years, that would ſwear any thing for Money) ſhe was upon their Teſtimony, condemned to Death for committing Adultery with Agifilea one of the Areopagites Wives; it being eaſy to make Old Men, who had beautiful Wives, believe any thing of ſo young and handſome a Doctor.
This forced Agnodicea to diſcover her Sex to ſave her Life; and then the enraged Phyſicians accuſed her of tranſgreſſing the Law, which forbid Women to Study or Practiſe Phyſick. And for this Crime ſhe was like to be condemned to Death; which coming to the Ears of the Noble Women, they ran before the Areopagites, which were the Chief Magiſtrates, and the Houſe being encompaſſed by moſt Women of the City, the Ladies entred before the Judges, and told them they would no longer account them for Husbands or Friends, but for cruel Enemies, that condemned her to Death, who reſtored them to their Healths; proteſting they would all die with her if ſhe were put to Death.
This cauſed the Magiſtrates to diſanul that Law, and make another, which gave Gentlewomen leave to Study and Practiſe all parts of Phyſick to their own Sex, giving large Stipends to thoſe that did it well and carefully, and impoſing ſevere Penalties upon the unskilful and negligent: And there were many Noble Women who ſtudied that Practiſe, and taught it publickly in their Schools as long as Athens flouriſhed in Learning.But 5 A3r 5
But Phanarota the Mother of wiſe Socrates, who was a Woman of great Learning and Skill, deſerves a particular remembrance, both for her own, and her Son’s ſake; who, as it is believed by many, was a Martyr, being put to Death for profeſſing there was but one God, which Wiſdom himſelf ſaith he learned of his Mother. Thus, Doctor, it appears, even that Learned Idolatrous City had in it a Midwife that knew and feared the true God: Tho, as the Apoſtle ſaith, there was an Altar therein dedicated to the unknown God, &c..
This Ambroſe Perre, Counſellour and Chyrurgion to the King of France, and his Ingenuous Diſciple Gulielmus, prove fully: and that is as far as my ſmall Learning and weak Capacity goes. But you, Doctor, may prove it more at large when you pleaſe, by the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Arabick Books, which treat on theſe Subjects; in which times the three parts of Phyſick, Midwifery, Chirurgery, and the making up and adminiſtring of Medicines, were all one, tho the laſt, which was then the ſervile part, hath now uſurp’d upon the other two; but we pretend only to the Firſt, as being the moſt Antient, Honourable and Uſeful Part: Wherein we deſire you not to concern your ſelves, until we deſire your Company, which we will certainly do as often as we have occaſion for your Advice in any thing we do not underſtand, or which doth not appertain to our Practiſe.
But to come into our own Country, it is not hard to prove by antient Britiſh Books and Writings, that before the Romans came hither here were Colledges of Women practiſing Phyſick, dedicated to ſome of the Female Deities; but whether ſo antient as the Bards I cannot tell, tho ſome old Britiſh Songs written in praiſe of the Goddeſs Trawth, ſeem to prove it: but they were in the time of the Druides, as appears both by Brittiſh and French Books, and the Name of Wiſe Women, by which Midwives are ſtill called in France, and moſt of the Weſtern Parts, as they are by that of Wiſe Mother in the Low- 6 A3v 6 Low-Countries, Germany, and moſt of the Northern Parts of the World.
And here in London were Colledges of Women about the Temple of Diana, who was Goddeſs of Midwives here, as well as at Epheſus. From whence the Grecians ſay, ſhe was abſent at Q. Olympia’s Labour, who was that Night deliver’d of Alexander the Great; where ſhe was ſo fully employed, that ſhe could not defend her Stately Temple, which was burned down by Heroſtrateus the Shoemaker, to perpetuate his Name.
Nor did the Biſhops pretend to Licenſe Midwives till Bp. Bonner’s time, who drew up the Form of the firſt Licenſe, which continued in full force till 16421642, and then the Phyſicians and Chirurgions contending about it, it was adjudged a Chyrurgical Operation, and the Midwives were Licenſed at Chirurgions-Hall, but not till they had paſſed three Examinations, before ſix skilful Midwives, and as many Chirurgions expert in the Art of Midwifery. Thus it continued until the Act of Uniformity paſſed, which ſent the Midwives back to Doctors Commons, where they pay their Money, (take an Oath which is impoſſible for them to keep) and return home as skilful as they went thither.
I make no Reflections on thoſe learned Gentlemen the Licenſers, but refer the curious for their further ſatisfaction, to the Yearly Bills of Mortality, from 164242 to 166262: Collections of which they may find at Clerk’s-Hall: Which if they pleaſe to compare with theſe of late Years, they will find there did not then happen the eight part of the Caſualties, either to Women or Children, as do now.
I hope, Doctor, theſe Conſiderations will deter any of you from pretending to teach us Midwifery, eſpecially ſuch as confeſs they never delivered Women in their Lives, and being asked What they would do in ſuch a Caſe? reply they have not yet ſtudied it, but will when occaſion ſerves; This is ſomething to the purpoſe I muſt confeſs, Doctor: but I doubt it will not ſatisfy the Women 7 A4r 7 Women of this Age, who are ſo ſensible and impatient of their Pain, that few of them will be prevailed with to bear it, in Complement to the Doctor, while he fetches his Book, ſtudies the Caſe, and teaches the Midwife to perform her work, which ſhe hopes may be done before he comes.
I proteſt, Doctor, I have not Power enough with the Women to hope to prevail with them to be patient in this caſe, and I think if the Learnedſt of you all ſhould propoſe it whilſt the Pains are on, he would come off with the ſame Applauſe which Phormio had, who having never ſeen a Battel in his Life, read a Military Lecture to Hannibal the Great.
But let this paſs, Doctor, as I do the Diſcourſes you have often made to me on this Subject, and I will tell you ſomething worthy of your moſt ſerious Conſideration: Which is,
That in September last, our Gracious Soveraign was pleaſed to promiſe to unite the Midwives into a Corporation, by His Royal Charter, and alſo to found a Cradle-Hoſpital, to breed up expoſed Children, to prevent the many Murders, and the Executions which attend them; which pious Deſign will never want a ſuitable Return from God, who no doubt will fully reward his Care for preſerving ſo many Innocents as would otherwiſe be loſt.
And I doubt not but one way will be by giving him a Prince by his Royal Conſort, who like another Moſes may become a Mighty Captain for the Nation; and lead to Battel the Soldiers which the Hoſpital will preſerve for him.
And now, Doctor, let me put you in mind, that tho you have often Laughed at me, and ſome Doctors have accounted me a Mad Woman theſe laſt four Years, for ſaying Her Majeſty was full of Children, and that the Bath would aſſisſt her Breeding: ’Tis now proved ſo true, that I have cauſe to hope my ſelf may live to praiſe God, not only for a Prince of Wales, and a Duke of York, but for many other Royal Babes by Her; and if the over Officious will but be pleaſed to let them live, I hope in a 8 A4v 8 a few Years to ſee them Maſter their little Soldiers: Which Joyful sight, I believe, is the hearty Deſire of all Loyal Subjects, of what Perſuaſion ſoever, as it is the daily and fervent Prayer of,
From my Houſe in Arundel-ſtreet, near St. Clement’s Church in the Strand. 1688-01-16Jan 16, 16878.