Alexander Hamilton (1739–1802) was a professor of midwifery at Edinburgh University. He was a successful practitioner and writer on midwifery, and contributed to the establishment of the Lying-in Hospital (later the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital) in 1791. Today we look at his Outlines of the theory and practice of midwifery, from 1796.
Most of the book contains very long descriptions of things that would have benefited from an illustration, e.g., the shape of the pelvic bones, or how to use a forceps. The author himself advises the reader to locate plates, and gives recommendations as to good ones, but as these were very expensive to reproduce, there are none contained in the book.
An astounding amount of scientific progress was made in the 18th century, across all branches of knowledge, including medicine. And yet, they have not the foggiest clue about the human reproductive system. Women's bodies, in particular, are a complete mystery. Why do women bleed once a month? If I understand through all the medical terminology, I believe the favoured theory was that our bodies must produce too much blood, which collects in the uterus (many more theories about why there as opposed to any other spot, none of which having anything to do with reproduction) until it overflows. Yeah, that sounds about right...
I have decided not to include here the rather graphic description of a Caesarian section, where the mother rather unbelievably utters not a single complaint the entire time. This is, after all, before the invention of anaesthetic. (Spoiler alert: this being also before the invention of antibiotics, she gets an infection and dies a week later).
For my part, as I write this, I feel exceedingly happy to be alive in this day and age. Yay!
It is obvious that the child must be formed out of materials furnished either by one of the parents or by both; hence three theories of generation have been proposed, viz.
- That the rudiments of the foetus are derived from the female parent.
- That they originate from the male; and
- That they result from something furnished by both.
That each of these systems has had its several supporters and antagonists, cannot be surprising, when we consider the obscurity of the subject, as well as the extent of learning…
The cause of this periodical evacuation, peculiar to females of the human species, has been a curious and perplexing subject of inquiry in all ages.
In the infancy of medicine, when fancy more than judgment influenced the theory, it is not surprising that the most chimerical reasons should have been given, to account for an appearance so striking and so important. Thus it was attributed to the influence of the moon, from its periodical appearance; to a ferment in the fluids, when fermentation was introduced to account for every phenomenon. Men, in other views respectable, have exerted all their ingenuity in defence of these theories; but they are now exploded, and the catamenia [i.e., menstruation] are commonly supposed to arise from an universal plethora, or a topical congestion: these opinions we shall proceed to examine.
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