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.