Transcription of Primary Source:

The Art of Midwifery is doubtless one the most useful and necessary of all Arts, for the being and well-being of Mankind, and therefore it is extremely requisite that a Midwife, be both fearing God, faithful, and exceeding well experienced in that profession. Her fidelity shall find not only a reward here from man, but God hath given a special example of it, Exod. I. in the Midwives of Israel, who were so faithful to their trust, that the Command of a King could not make them depart from it, viz. But the Midwives feared God, and did not as the King of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. Therefore God dealt well with the Midwives; and because they feared God, he made them Houses.

As for their knowledge it must be twofold, Speculative; and Practical, she that wants the knowledge of Speculation, is like one that is lame and wants he sight: she that wants the Practice, is like to one that is blind or wants her sight: she that wants the Practice, is like on that is lame and wants her legs, the lame may see but they cannot walk, the blind may walk but cannot see. Such is the condition of those Midwives that are not well versed in both these. Some perhaps may think, that then it is not proper for women to be of this profession, because they cannot attain so rarely to the knowledge of things as men ma, who are bred up in Universities, Schools of learning, or serve their Apprentiships for that end and purpose, where Anatomy Lectures being frequently read, the situation of the parts both men and women, and other things of great consequence are often made plain to them.


Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book Or The Whole Art OF Midwifry Discovered, which was edited by Elaine Hobby, is medical handbook used to educate women in the art of midwifery or further the knowledge of practicing midwives in England during the seventeenth century. The Midwives book is a small octavo volume that was published in May of 1671 by Simon Miller’s the Stationer’ Company Term Catalogues. The author introduces herself in the title page as “Mrs. Jane Sharp, practitioner in the art of midwifery above 30 years.” The sources belongs to the genre of medical manuals. However, compared to other sources of that same genre, there some similarities and differences. A similarity between other midwifery manuals and Sharp’s midwives book is belief in the Humoral theory, a theory which are based off the models of Aristotle and Galen. The medical handbook is comprised of six books that thoroughly discusses topics ranging from human reproduction, pregnancy, labor and infant care. In this book, there are also two illustrations, “one showing a pregnant woman, the other indicating babies’ postures in cases of malpresentation.” The editor, Elaine Hobby, provides a note on the text that describes all the small emendations that have been made in The Midwives Book. The source contains some “manifest errors, probably due to the compositor’s misreading of Sharp’s handwriting.” This edition of the manual is based off the copy in the British Library. Additionally, the editor also consulted another copy that is currently located in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.


Sharp, Jane. The Midwives Book Or The Whole Art Of Midwifry Discovered. Edited by Elaine Hobby. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.