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Founded in 1980

he first state-level medical history society to have a website.  Our goal is to promote interest, research, and writing in medical history, and we are dedicated to the discussion and enjoyment of the history of medicine and allied fields.

The King's Midwife: A History and Mystery of Mme du Coudray - A Zoom Talk by Nina Gelbart, PhD

  • Tuesday, January 16, 2024
  • 7:00 PM (EST)

Nina Rattner Gelbart, professor emerita at Occidental College in Los Angeles, is a historian of medicine and science with a particular interest in the French Enlightenment and the forgotten yet remarkable contributions of women during that period. She has written several books and many articles on such topics,and her research is supported by, among others, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Extraordinary accomplishments by female thinkers and doers have been erased from the historical record, and it has been Dr. Gelbart's passion throughout her career to bring their stories back to life.


This talk will introduce you to one of the great but unsung celebrities of 18th-century France, the midwife Mme du Coudray. I call her "The King's Midwife" because King Louis XV commissioned her to travel the country teaching the art of safe childbirth, with the daunting task of arresting infant mortality. A populous state, the monarch believed, was a prosperous state. What made him, and then Louis XVI after him, entrust Mme du Coudray with this all-important but near-impossible mission? Was it her uniquely commanding personality? Was it the fact that she had written a textbook on delivering babies? Was it that she had invented the first life-size obstetrical mannequin for her students to practice on? And why, already in middle age, did she accept such an exhausting responsibility? For nearly 30 years she traversed the French countryside, reaching, teaching, and training thousands of new young midwives. Her work played a large part in the growth of France's population in the late 1700s.


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