©Wellcome Library, London

Nurses and swaddled infants

In spite of the fact that empirical knowledge of childbirth was largely women's knowledge, the midwife's view is largely absent from the Medieval literature on gynaecology. A rare exception is the work of a German healer, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1197). She counteracted the traditional (male) view that woman was an imperfect version of man, by suggesting that her very weakness made her passions milder and fitted her for child-bearing. The theologian, Martin Luther (1483-1546) agreed but took a misogynistic stance. ‘Men', he argued, ‘have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children'.

Source: Charles Frederick Victor Smout. The story of the progress of medicine. John Wright, Bristol 1964.