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“A Child Born of Such a Mother”: Mormon Midwifery Lessons, 1893

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 07, 2013

A 33-year-old woman, president of her Arizona stake’s Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, enrolled in a course given by another LDS woman on the subjects of midwifery and improvement of women’s health generally. The class was held weekly for 16 weeks in the fall of 1893 – and this class member must have been writing furiously throughout each session to have recorded such lengthy and detailed notes.

The course was a curious mix of science and superstition and theology, of theory and practice; I chose this lesson out of the several options because it so frequently shifts from one way of interpreting the world to another. All of the lessons had some mix of science and faith, with some leaning more heavily to the science of 1893. Accurate anatomical terms were often used. Lessons frequently drew on the then-respectable but now-discredited theory of maternal impression, or the notion that an expectant mother’s acts and emotions, and the sights and sounds around her, indelibly shaped the character, morality, even physical body of the child she was carrying (h/t to Alison for helping me find the name of that theory and the posted link).

We could point out the many medical faults of this lesson, and you’re welcome to gasp at them in comments. Another and potentially more relevant-to-Mormon-history conversation might develop over some of the religious and theological ideas incorporated with the medical ones. Either way, I think you may be amazed by what our great-grandmothers were taught to “expect while expecting.”

Lesson 13 – October 31 1893

Diseases of pregnancy should never oc[c]ur, they are brought about by unnaturel & artificial lives. One child out of every 12 ends in an abortion in the first month. A sickely woman should never bear children. Think well of the care of our little girls, that they may grow up to be healthy mothers & bring the noble Spirits that are to come. W[e] Should watch very closely our conduct in the first months of our pregnancy. Woman can have beautifull children, or they can have them the other way[.] Teacher thought the re[a]son why there was so many disobediant children, because there was so much disobediance on our part, and if we desire our children to be obediant we must be obediant our selves. Pregnancy should be the most healthy part of our lives. The womb weighs 1 ounce when at naturel size[.] Mam[m]ery glands are the breasts. It is said that one reason why women have sickly babes is because they do not breathe deep enough[.] We can take 12 pts of air in one respiration if our clothing is perfectly loose

Salavation of [Salivation during] Pregnancy

Symptoms were then read and explained[.] Salavation is general[l]y caused by a woman desiring coition or else practising it[.] Salavation is con[n]ected with a desire for coition & a child born of such a mother can not be a pure minded one, we must not judge to[o] harshly such a mother. She may have inherited it. A remedy for salavation, purify the diet do away with every thing exciting, no pastry nothing rich. [H]ave plenty of fresh air and pure thoughts & a God like life[. R]emove the cause if possable, never use soda or any thing that would injure the inside lining of the Stomache, oat meal gruel should be eaten for it, or something sim[i]ler, do not eat bread or any thing solid, do not use salt or pep[p]er, a little potato Starch is good, allso Raw eggs taken in milk seamingly this is very good and mild, and will not injure any one. Many will love a man to such an extent that she will go contrary to the laws of God and Say her happiness is at an end if she does not get him, hers is not love but passion, her heart is full of pain for fear he will love another, therefore proven that is not pure love, for if it were she would rejoice, to see him loved, as she does her children. Passion will never elivate woman kind[.] The higher laws of marrage will do more to elivate us than any thing else, as it will do away with our selfishness and we must have a pure love, to live it aright, if we in our hearts condem[n] this law, it will bring darkness to our minds quicker than any thing else. True love will bear much sacrafice much and endure long, is willing others should be loved, as she is, and will rejoice that her husband is capable of loving purely much and many[.] There is great sin in reading novels[.] Sis R. said for us to say nothing about plural marrage, or any of the principles of the Gospel, if we do not understand them

Dental carries and tooth ache were allso spoke upon. Candies are very bad for the teeth[.] It is not good to have teeth drawn in pregnancy. Tooth ache is due to not having proper nutrition, and to[o] much is taken to sustain the child. The imperfect bread we eat is one cause. [U]se the perfect bread and do not have th[e] teeth extracted during p[r]egnancy

Perfect Diet

Unelevened [unleavened] bread is the only is the only perfect one, but when made with the yeast have the whole flour or graham[. K]need 15 or 20 minutes, bread is the main article, and we want it to be the very best[.] Fruit must be in its naturel state as near as is possable dried canned and fresh are the best preserves are very bad for sour stomache allso jelly, and by eating this we do wrong because we are breaking natures laws[. C]ream eaten with fruit takes of[f] any sharp taste. Pie and cake can be made of Graham flour and sweet cream, by beating well. Mush made of cornmeal oatmeal graham flour cracked wheat and etc must cook a long time it must not beat[en] with salt or sugar but with cream. [I]t is undijestable with salt or sugar and lies like a plaster. If we avoid salt and sweets we can live a pure life. Vegatables cooked whole and then sliced in cream are much more healthy, than any other way. All vegitables need a little salt[.] For eggs let the water come to a boiling point and have1 p[in]t of water to each egg. And let them them stand on the hearth of the stove 10 minutes and then they are done. If one has an earnest desire to live a pure life she will avoid eating meat. Children will never be troubled with worms when meat is not eaten. We should consult the Lord in all our undertakings[.] There is a woe pronounced upon one who will waste flesh and shed blood who have no need.

It is a crime to lace ones body & p[r]event free circulation. It shows a good character to leave of[f] these health distroying corsets. Those who are the most fashionable, are the greatest sufferers in pregnancy, in the majority of cases

On account of womans weekly condition She is more susceptable to impressions during pregnancy– to breed easily is a good test of bodialy soundness. In a few mounths the uterus increases in size from 3 inches to 12 in. in length, & from 1-1/2 in. to 9 in. in width, in weight from about an ounce to 2 lbs. not including its contents. [B]y diseases of pregnancy is me[a]nt those diseases to which a woman is more subject than at any other time[.] 1st Salavation is con[n]ected with passion or a desire for coition

Derangements of the stomache, vomiting

Do away with the cause, it may be caused from misplaced organs, improper diet, sectual congress or from improper dressing.

Treatment

The diet must be changed, or fasting for one or two days may prove effectual. Some startling news told to a person quickly in order to get the mind off her sickness is good[.] Will power is better than medecine

Allways thinking about ones aliments, only helps to keep these things. Never speak of your nerviousness to others it is not right nor pleasing. Do not say you can not fast as it is the adve[r]sary who prompts you. A nurcing mother needs to fast more than any other, as she will implant in her child a desire to sacrafice. Let her say to our Father that she desires to fast, that she may please Him and get a blessing & have a happy heart, and such a child will be benifited, who nourishes under such a condition. Fasting is good for all the common aliments we meet with. Another treatment for vomiting. Introduce the finger in the os [? oo?] and turn just enough to cause an unpleasant feeling[.] May be tried in sevier vomiting, when other things fail, never use medicine.

Derangements of the intestines

Constipation is due to improper diet and lack of exercise. Gloomy thoughts, lack of vigor and life in many instances because one does not desire to become a mother. should not eat at irregular hours, nor take medicine, as the blood will be effected by it & the child will suffer, & this is one cause of children being born with diseases in there system because its mothers blood is not pure. Manipulation is good for constipation and take a glass of cold water night and morning[. N]ever eat preserves. Never use soap and water injections. If one is needed use warm water and oil, have it the same tempeture as the body allways use the Fountain syringe

For inflamed uterus apply the hot pack and have pure air, clean bedding, proper diet, clean body, and cool head. Ice is not good.



14 Comments »

  1. Wow. I had no idea that sexual thoughts or desires were so damaging to a fetus.

    Comment by HokieKate — March 7, 2013 @ 7:11 am

  2. But only if they’re strong enough to make you salivate.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 7, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  3. Sure, a lot of this sounds pretty hokey, but let’s not overlook the excellent recommendations about putting cream on everything you eat.

    Comment by E. Wallace — March 7, 2013 @ 8:57 am

  4. By “worms” they probably meant intestinal parasites, which can certainly be alleviated by not eating infected meat.

    Talk about guilt if your child is born with some disease.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 7, 2013 @ 10:17 am

  5. Now there’s something we should be teaching our YW – dresing immodestly causes morning sickness.

    I always wonder what these women would have been laughing at from a report an additional hundred years earlier. Leeches, how silly!

    Comment by Frank Pellett — March 7, 2013 @ 10:22 am

  6. Or what they’ll be laughing at a hundred years from now. You used to microwave your food? No wonder you all got alzheimers.

    Comment by Carol — March 7, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  7. This is classic. Constipation, corsets, and an interpretation of the WoW that’s more Mosaic than Moses. All in one post.

    Comment by The Other Clark — March 7, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  8. “It is said that one reason why women have sickly babes is because they do not breathe deep enough”

    Back when my youngest was undergoing one of his regular fetal echocardiograms, the hospital was doing a study to see if giving the mother oxygen made any difference to the fetal circulation. (It wasn’t this study, but it was one like it.) The technician put on the oxygen mask and I felt like someone had just turned on the lights. Carrying an infant requires a heavy load on the circulatory system, and as I look through PubMed, the question of “breathing deeper,” or in other words getting the mother more oxygen, or in medical jargon, “chronic intermittent materno-fetal hyperoxygenation,” is an ongoing research question with no clear answer as of 2013.

    Although much of this advice may seem absurd, some of it may have roots in real observations by people over the centuries. For example, women with heart problems can have a variety of difficulties during pregnancy including breathing difficulties, and their infants can have a number of adverse outcomes.

    Of course, breathing deeply isn’t going to fix any of the problems, but I guess people have a need to give answers even if we don’t know what we’re talking about.

    Comment by Amy T — March 7, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  9. The post-Manifesto polygamy references are fascinating.

    her heart is full of pain for fear he will love another, for if it were [pure love] she would rejoice, to see him loved, as she does her children.

    Her fear was likely justified, if she was rejecting any intimate advances, and he had another wife to which to go. That she (the pregnant wife) was expected to rejoice at seeing him loved by another strikes my modern mind as ludicrous.

    Comment by The Other Clark — March 7, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  10. I wish I could remember from my college days where I read the part of the diary of a polygamous wife. She was grateful that right after giving birth she wasn’t expected to fulfill some wifely duties because her husband had other wives. I wondered if she really felt that way or was taught that she was expected to feel that way. Sounds like she was taught.

    Comment by Carol — March 7, 2013 @ 11:18 am

  11. By the way, I thought that the advice about fasting was really absurd, but the information in PubMed about women observing Ramadan fasting does not seem to suggest a deleterious effect on the fetus.

    It does, however, raise the mother’s cortisol level, which isn’t a good thing, and the studies are all very small, and a number of them suggest problems with blood sugar, and for some women, not eating regularly and correctly while pregnant, even during later stages of pregnancy, can lead to awful nausea and vomiting and fainting and other difficulties, so I’d personally come down on the side of the expectant mother asking her doctor for advice if she (for some strange reason) wants to put herself and her baby at risk and fast during pregnancy.

    Comment by Amy T — March 7, 2013 @ 11:25 am

  12. I’d have commented earlier, but my wife had me help her look for her misplaced organs. Who knew?

    Also, this gem deserves special notice:

    “…when other things fail, never use medicine.”

    I am still trying to figure out who was doing the “salavating,” the husband or the pregnant wife?

    Comment by kevinf — March 7, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

  13. Definitely TMI, Kevin!

    Comment by Mark B. — March 7, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

  14. Absolutely fascinating! Ardis, you are a marvel at digging up gems like this. Such a mix of theories. If only we had the teacher’s notes.

    Comment by Amy — March 10, 2013 @ 9:50 pm

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