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The politics of midwifery education and training in New South Wales during the last decades of the 19th Century

Women and Birth
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.wombi.2007.11.002
  • Midwifery
  • Education
  • Training
  • Lay Midwives
  • Births
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Midwifery Nurse
  • Hospitals
  • Fees
  • Asylum
  • Education
  • Medicine


Summary This paper focuses on the introduction and development of midwifery education and training in Sydney during the last decades of the 19th century. The aim of the training, it is argued, was to displace the lay midwives by trained midwifery nurses who would work under medical control. The lay midwives were one of the largest occupational groups among women and two-thirds of births in NSW were being delivered by them in the late 19th century. It was a period of professionalisation of medicine and medical men laid claim to midwifery as a legitimate sphere of their practice and saw it as the gateway for establishing a family practice. The lay midwife stood in the way of their claim. The training programs were established purportedly to control maternal mortality. From the beginning in 1887 medical men were in control of midwifery nurse training. In addition to training at the Benevolent Society Asylum, three more women's hospitals were established in the 1890s in Sydney making it possible to train a stream of midwifery nurses. The midwifery nurses were charged exorbitant fees for their training; the fees contributed substantially towards running the new hospitals that delivered birth services to the poor and destitute women mostly in their homes. The midwifery nurses worked hard in miserable conditions under the guise of clinical experience required for training. When a critical mass of poorly trained midwifery nurses were in the offing, a Bill was introduced into the Parliament in 1895, restricting registration to midwifery nurses and this would have eliminated the lay midwife if passed. It took more than two decades to get a Registration Bill passed in the NSW Parliament.

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