Martha Ballard We as a society are fortunate. We have the luxury of advanced technology to include: computers, telephones, video teleconferencing equipment, cellular phones, beepers, and hospitals with the latest gadgets and gizmos. Our technology is available only because of documented historical accounts. Our idea of work is having to get in our vehicles and driving to our destination and sometimes sitting behind a desk all day to push paper; the worst any of us suffers is a traffic jam here or there or worse, a construction site. Imagine life in the late eighteenth century. People in this era had to deal with not only getting up at dawn to milk the cows, but toiling for hours on end with animals that refused to budge. Individuals in this era did not have the luxury of using the technological tools we have today.
They could not pull out their cell phones if the mule decided to have a bad day or if they injured themselves on the job. Achieving prosperity was not easily done! during this century. The demands placed upon them, required that farmers and merchants work endlessly to provide for their families. Through our education, we have learned that farmers worked and played very hard. We are not however, taught in great detail the vital role a midwife played.
Midwives had literally to be available at the drop of a hat to attend a birth. If she was not there, it could cause potential problems for the mother-to-be and the newborn. Martha Ballard, a woman that is not generally listed in history books, played a vital role in the latter part of the eighteenth century. She is a woman of great strength and character who goes above the call of duty in her chosen profession – that of a Midwife. Martha Ballard is a woman who has not only lived through the Revolution, but who has kept a diary detailing the gains and losses that we made in political, economic and social transformations during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Ulrich, 32)! . Mrs.
Ballard’s diary has been around for many years. Historians who know about the diary seldom know what to do with it (Ulrich, 8). Some feel that her diary is boring and filled with too many details of domestic chores and pastimes to be worthy of any great exploration (Baker, 14). “That Martha Ballard kept her diary is one small miracle; that her descendants saved it is another (Ulrich, 346).” This statement speaks volumes. How often have we come across documents our ancestors left behind and just threw them away? How often did we sit and examine those documents or analyze their meaning? Speculating on why Ballard kept the diary and why her family saved it, Ulrich highlights the documents’ usefulness for historians (Mullaney, 102).
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, an Associate Professor of History (at the time of publication) at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, took the time to evaluate Martha Ballard’s diary and connect the missing links in the role women played d! uring the early years of colonial America. Her ardent studies led her to believe that the diary was more than just the detailing of domestic duties it was describing a “lost substructure of eighteenth century life” – a decidedly female one (Baker, 14). Martha Ballard was more than a midwife. She was a historian, mortician, pharmacist, nurse, farmer, mother, and wife (Ulrich 40). Perhaps it was a sense of history or a craving for stability, perhaps only a practical need to keep birth records, that first motivated Martha to keep a diary.
“Thee number of childn I have Extracted since I came to Kennebeck I find by written account & other Calculations to be 405,” she wrote on December 31, 1791. (Ulrich,20) Martha was fifty years old when she began documenting her experiences crossing the Kennebec River and events of that era. She moved to this area at the tender of age nineteen when she married the loyal Tory and surveyor, Ephraim Ballard. She shows us a history of the female economy and how women were regarded. When reading diaries, one expects to find statements about the people the author meets, not in Martha’s diary. One does not find malicious or crude remarks made by Martha about any of the people she helped. Even when her son wanted nothing to do with her, she still does not say an unkind word about him: Son Jonathan been here this morn and treated me very unbecomingly indead.
O that God would Chang his stubborn heart and Cause him to behave in a Cristion like manner to parents and all others. I Came home on Monday and past the above sien yesterday. I have brot wood from the old fence above here to boil potatoes for son Jonathans swine. He has 8 in my hogs sty (Ulrich, 277). This entry tells of the relationship she had with one of her sons.
Her diary vividly explains a period in the eighteenth century that suffered not only a political revolution but a medical, economic and sexual transformation. Womanhood was something to be admired and longed after (Ulrich, 27). Women of this time frame, often had to tend to the homefront by preparing homemade jams, butters, homespun garments, tending to the farm animals, caring and disciplining the children and maintaining the meager finances the family had. They could not rely on the technology available to us today. They also did not have the luxury of sleeping in or putting off the chores. These duties were made especially harder if the husband was away on business or jailed for adultery, gambling or couldn’t pay his taxes.
Martha Ballard, along with several other women of her time had to learn complete and total independence so that the family could continue functioning. Ephraim was placed in debtor’s prison because he could not pay his taxes (Ulrich, 266). Martha’s life continued as it had always done. She gardened, sewed, cared for her grandchildren, nursed the sick, laid out the dead and delivered babies. His prolonged absence caused her midwifery and nursing practices to decline. In the year and half her husband was jailed, she only delivered five grandchildren and helped to bury three of them (Ulrich, 276).
Martha allowed her profession to decline because of the massive duties she had to perform at home. Most of her time was spent doing the mundane household chores that could not be neglected even for one day. She caused most of the problems she endured. She had three grown sons and two sons-in-law who could help her during her times of needs. Her pride and her emotional well-being prevented her from reaching out (Ulrich, 278).
Modern day women do this. We would rather do the job ourselves than depend on our husband’s to help us. Women do not want to appear weak or incapable. Upon further study, one finds the diary shows that women enjoyed a complex web of relationships outside the home and confirms that premarital sex was widespread, while romance was subordinated to marriage as an economic relationship (Publishers Weekly, 409). The start of a sexual transformation came when marriages in the eighteenth century were born of love between two people as opposed to the seventeenth century custom of arranged marriages.
When couples wed during Martha’s time, it was customary for the bride to continue living at home, with or without her husband (Ulrich, 141). The idea of creating a home did not begin with the marriage, but when the couple “went to housekeeping,” which might not be for a month or more after the prescribed and modest civil ceremony (Deglar, 13). Martha’s diary supports the notion that children chose their own spouses and that premarital sex did indeed exist (Ulrich, 138). It was all right for couples to choose their partners and even ! have sex with them as a “trial” run to ensure the compatibility of the two. This is no different from what the nineteenth century has been doing for at least four decades.
The high interest in sexual relations resulted in Martha delivering 285 children being born out of wedlock and 236 children born before a couple actually married (Ulrich, 152). Due to the Fornication Laws established during this time frame, they required that midwives document any names the women screamed out during childbirth to establish paternity and imprison both the mother and the father (Ulrich, 148). These laws still exist in today’s society as Child Support. The Department of Social Services requires applicants to name the father of their children if they want to collect assistance. Eventually the courts found that these laws wasted time and turned their attention to settling property disputes; a more profitable business.
The last portion of interest is in Martha’s fascinating genealogy. She was not only Clara Barton’s aunt (founder of the American Red Cross) but she was Samuel Adams’ grandmother (Ulrich,11& 31). Her great-great granddaughter, Mary Hobart was a pioneer in medicine who was inspired by the stories she heard about her grandmother (Ulrich, 347). The contributions one makes to their society can be phenomenal. Martha Ballard was one such person; yet they rarely mention her in history books.
The epitome of her diary has opened our eyes to the plight of women during the eighteenth century and taught us that we can persevere no matter what. Despite her public reputation as a self-sacrificing “angel of the battlefield,” she was a conscious feminist, a lifelong supporter of women’s rights and women’s suffrage. (Ulrich, 349) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich spent eight years reviewing Martha’s diary. This diary would win her a Pulitzer Prize and a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities to have this story turned into a filmed documentary (Bedford) in 1995. Marie Mullaney from Caldwell College, NJ writes, “Using passages from the diary as a starting point for each chapter division, Ulrich explains how the seemingly trivial details of Ballard’s daily life reflect and relate to prominent themes in the history of the early republic; the role of women in the economic life of the community, the nature of marriage and sexual relations, the scope of medical knowledge and practice” (102) to describe her views of Ulrich’s depiction.
This diary allows us to catch a rare glimpse of family events, visits to neighbors, dangerous river crossings, childbirth, weather highlights, public scandals and ordinary workaday doings in the plain, quaint words of the person who lived or observed them The seemingly trivial becomes fraught with meaning in the skilled hands of this historian and what history texts typically make abstract is returned to concrete form here (Banas, 1262). In reading Martha Ballard’s diary, one can learn what it was to suffer as a woman and how to rise above all the evil’s thrown our way. One also learns patience and the reality of how our ancestors worked really hard so that our lives would be made easier through their contributions to history via there thoughts and feelings.