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Midwifery

Hannah Sandusky

Called “the angel” and “the saint” by her patients, midwife Hannah Sandusky was remarkable both for the sheer number of births she oversaw and for the respect that male doctors granted her for her skills.

Alice Bailes

Alice Bailes joined the resurgence of natural childbirth in America both as a midwife and as coeditor of The Handbook on Home Birth.

Lena Barber

One of the few midwives to continue working in Baltimore after the 1924 ordinance that required they be licensed and registered, Lena Barber kept detailed records of hundreds of her deliveries.

Rosa Fineberg

Rosa Edelhurst Fineberg kept detailed records of her work as a midwife that shed light on the lives of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century.

Elizabeth D. A. Cohen

Called a midwife and a “doctoress,” as she fought for the respect of her colleagues, Elizabeth D. A. Cohen became the first woman doctor recognized by the state of Louisiana and battled to save patients from two epidemics of yellow fever.

Sheryl Baron Nestel

Sheryl Baron Nestel’s activism in the childbirth reform movement led to her investigation of how race and racism affect healthcare.

A Tradition of Taking Risks

In traditional society, men are seen as the risk takers, while women are supposed to be docile homemakers. When women step up to the plate, it stands out. To me, the women who bravely put aside their fears and take matters into their own hands are the ones who make the difference and are role models for all people.

In the Torah, there is a story of two women, Shifra and Puah, and the risks they took to save the lives of some children in Egypt. These midwives worked for the Israelites and took orders from Pharaoh, who knew the two of them and specifically told them to kill any male children born to Hebrew mothers, but they chose to not listen to him. It’s not clear if these two women were part of the Jewish people or if they were Egyptians. Still, their story takes place for a reason, not just to explain how Moses survived, but also to bring a lesson to future Jews about courage and the impact of the risks they take.

Meet Miriam Kobey, “Denver’s Angel of Mercy”

An Orthodox Jewish woman from Suwalki, Poland, Miriam (Mary) Rachofsky (Kobey) was an unlikely pioneer on the western frontier. Her passion for helping others led to a successful career as a midwife in Denver at a time when very few women ran their own businesses.   

History Next Door

New Yorkers know better than to bother an actor, celebrity or otherwise famous person when they see one on the street (or in a restaurant, store, or park – not to mention stepping out of a taxi).  As a New Yorker for fifteen years, I upheld this unwritten rule – even when it came to a famous neighbor.

Shiphrah: Midrash and Aggadah

Shiphrah (more commonly spelled "Shifra") was one of the two Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) who delivered the children of the Israelites during the Egyptian servitude. The Torah chronicles (Ex. 1:15–21) that they disobeyed Pharaoh’s command and did not kill the Israelite male newborns.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Midwifery." (Viewed on November 26, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/midwifery>.

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