J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

The Record of a Pennsylvania Dutch Midwife

Pennsylvania Heritage shares an interesting article by Patrick J. Donmoyer of Kutztown University on the “Hebamme Büchlein” or work record of the midwife Rosina Heydrich (1737–1828).

Heydrich was part of the Schwenkfelder community, a religious sect that immigrated from Lower Silesia to the Perkiomen Valley of Pennsylvania in the decade before she was born. That area is now part of Montgomery County. Her parents’ marriage had been the occasion for those immigrants to choose a minister and establish a meeting.

Heydrich began her notebook by copying out more than a hundred herbal remedies. Donmoyer writes, “Some remedies are notably ritual in nature, describing the use of healing objects or procedures enacted in a particular manner or at certain times.”

On 1 Aug 1770, Heydrich recorded her first delivery in the book. That was also her only delivery that year, so perhaps she was still in training, or busy with her own family. In 1771 Heydrich attended at two births, and the next years at three, and during the war years she appears to have become her community’s principal midwife.

Over the next 84 pages, and the next 49 years, Heydrich and her assistant (who Donmoyer suggests was a daughter) set down the basic details of more then 1,700 more births. That’s more babies than in the similar journal that Martha Ballard kept in Maine, but Heydrich didn’t also mention local events.

It’s clear Heydrich and her assistant maintained this record for their own use, not as a public record. “Passages freely combine German and Latin script, fraktur calligraphy, and Latin printing in varying degrees on a single page and even sometimes in a single inscription.” That made the document a challenging read.

Heydrich’s manuscript was held for decades by the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center in Pennsburg. Under a grant from state agencies, specialists have transcribed, translated, and digitized the pages, and the notebook is now available for anyone to read through the P.O.W.E.R. Library.

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