The "languid child" and the eighteenth-century man-midwife

Bull Hist Med. 2001 Winter;75(4):641-79. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2001.0184.


This article addresses the methods used to preserve the life of a sickly neonate--that is, a child described as "languid" in the immediate period after birth. By looking at the work of some seventeenth-century midwifery authors, we can see how a fragile baby was handled in the period before formal training in midwifery and in the appropriate use of forceps. The article assesses the recognized causes of neonatal risk at the time of William Smellie. Examples from the manuscript midwifery case histories of William Hey, F.R.S. (1736-1819), reveal how a provincial man-midwife handled at-risk babies in domiciliary deliveries. The article also places William Hey within the wider group of eighteenth-century men-midwives and those whose work was leading them toward neonatal and infant care. Respect for life, parental love and grief, and the status of men-midwives in the last half of the eighteenth century are discussed.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Equipment Design / history
  • Europe
  • History, 18th Century
  • Humans
  • Infant Care / history*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Midwifery / history*
  • Obstetrical Forceps / history
  • Resuscitation / history*

Personal name as subject

  • W Smellie
  • W Hunter
  • W Hey