Provincial Obstetrics in late eighteenth-century England: Thomas Higgins of Wem, 1759-1803

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Inst for Humanities


This research will constitute a major case study into a provincial man midwife, a new category of medical practitioner that emerged over the second half of the eighteenth century. Thomas Higgins, a man midwife and surgeon apothecary of Wem in Shropshire (1759-1803), undertook obstetrical work from 1781 until his death. He left a valuable archive containing an unusual combination of manuscript materials including midwifery casebooks, a drugs sales book, household accounts family legal papers, and correspondence. Fortunately this collection is supported by a rich set of manuscripts relating to the parish of Wem including a survey of landowners/occupiers, the records of grammar-school trustees and a series of Wills. Therefore this project will examine the question of a practitioner's professional and social equals by making a study of his personal and medical contacts. This work is important because research on provincial man midwives has been substantially overshadowed by work on London men, despite the significance and greater numbers of the former. Furthermore the evidence of the midwifery casebooks can be linked to local baptisms, infant burials and women's burials found in parish registers. The combination of data can be used to address questions about the local population concerning the under-registration of births, infant mortality, and maternal mortality. This sort of investigation is very unusual, since demographic history usually relies on parish registers alone.


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