First Advisor

Kris Gowen

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology and University Honors




Midwifery -- History, Birth customs -- History, Maternal health services -- History




There was a time when nearly every infant that came into this world was caught by the hands of a midwife. The rise of obstetrics in the 1800s drove midwifery to the margins, and in the US it is only in the last century that midwifery has reemerged as an organized profession, appearing everywhere from home births to hospital labor floors. Faced with a tradeoff between autonomy and credibility, midwifery branched into several pathways, with different educational requirements and scopes of practice. The formation of national organizations like the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) has helped midwives build professional identity and strengthen legislative advocacy. As an ancient trade and a young profession, midwifery embodies a paradox that is visible in the regulatory debates playing out at the state and national levels. Its professional structure is shaped by, and in turn shapes, philosophies of maternity care. This paper traces the relationship between midwifery and medicine beginning in the late 1700s, provides an overview of the development of different midwifery paths in the 1900s, and examines present-day issues in order to chart a path for midwifery’s continued evolution.


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An undergraduate honors thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science in University Honors and Organismal Biology

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