Business and Labor

Another Baby for Martha Ballard

An entry in Martha Ballard's day book

Martha Ballard delivered 797 babies along the wild Kennebec River in Hallowell , Maine, between 1785 and 1812. She kept a diary during those years, recording the arduous life of a midwife on what was then the Massachusetts frontier. She also wrote about her family dramas, local crimes and political events.

On June 2, 1786, she was 51 years old. Her husband, Ephraim, was 61, and they had three daughters and two sons between seven and 30, all unmarried. Martha went to her patients by horseback and canoe, treating burns and rashes, frostbite, coughs, colic and sore throats. Most of the medicines she grew herself, gathered in the wild or transformed from household staples. She did buy some medicines, like camphor.

She had plenty of other work to do along with delivering babies and healing the sick. In the spring of 1786, she planted corn, brewed beer, making a pair of trousers for Ephraim, spun thread and made homemade ink with which to write her diary.

Martha Ballard was the great aunt of Clara Barton, the nurse who founded the American Red Cross.

She wrote her diary with a quill pen and the homemade ink she made. On June 2, 1786, she wrote:

Calld ys morn at 8/O Clok to Isaac Cowens to See his wife, arivd there at 1 / PM. found her Safe Delivd of a Daughter, Born betwixt Six & Seven O Clok. Left them at 3. Returnd home 7, very much fatagud. had 2 falls from my hors which Lamd me Some. Polly & Sally here when I came home.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jade Lally

    Jade Lally

    June 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Love her diary, read it 3 times!

  2. Jane MacLeod LeBlanc

    Jane MacLeod LeBlanc

    June 3, 2014 at 7:57 am

    I loved her diary also and have bought it at Goodwill and given it to several friends. I live in Maine and reenact that period.

  3. Jean Gillis Vanasek

    Jean Gillis Vanasek

    June 3, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Would love to get my hands on a copy of this, where can I get one? Use to live in Maine and have many ancestors who lived in Kennebec County, around Hallowell, Wayne and Winthrop, with the names of Dexter, Billington, Thurston, and Wing, to name a few. Would like to see if any of them are mentioned.

  4. Jennifer Harmon

    Jennifer Harmon

    June 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Amazon has it

  5. Jennifer Harmon

    Jennifer Harmon

    June 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Amazon has it

  6. Jennifer Harmon

    Jennifer Harmon

    June 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Amazon has it

  7. Jean Gillis Vanasek

    Jean Gillis Vanasek

    June 3, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks Jennifer, I’ll look into it.

  8. Mickey Roy Hutchinson

    Mickey Roy Hutchinson

    June 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    PBS did a special about Martha and her diary, with comments from the author, Laura Thatcher Ulrich, based on the book “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812”. It is a fascinating look into the life of a colonial midwife, and women in general. I believe it won the Pulitzer Prize. Ulrich also wrote “Good wives, Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England.” Another gem I recommend.

  9. Mickey Roy Hutchinson

    Mickey Roy Hutchinson

    June 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    PBS did a special about Martha and her diary, with comments from the author, Laura Thatcher Ulrich, based on the book “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812”. It is a fascinating look into the life of a colonial midwife, and women in general. I believe it won the Pulitzer Prize. Ulrich also wrote “Good wives, Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England.” Another gem I recommend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top