A Woman’s Power: Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Romantic Era
Romantic era debates over childbirth practices brought the private space of the womb into the arena of public debate.In a 1763 letter, Samuel Johnson stated, "Nature has given women so much power, that the law wisely has given them little." In the Romantic era, the ability to bear children was considered woman’s foundational contribution to society, but it was also a source of concern, since this power, if left unchecked, would pose a threat to social order. The growth of the medical field of obstetrics and the debates over the reproductive power brought the private space of the womb into the arena of public debate.
Medical advances created a shift in negative attitudes toward midwifery, a traditionally female occupation, and women in increasing numbers were attended by male physicians who employed new technologies, including forceps, fillets, and other equipment, to assist in extracting the child from the mother. Mary Shelley’s Julia McLeod
Fragonard, Jean-Honore. The Mother and Child. N.d. Wikimedia. Web. 5 April 2012.
Kipp, Julie. Romanticism, Maternity, and the Body Politic. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 2003. Print.
Perkin, Joan. Women and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century England. Chicago: Lyceum, 1989. Print.
Riley, James C. “Did Mothers Begin with an Advantage? A Study of Childbirth and Maternal Health in England and
Wales, 1778-1929.” Population Studies 57.1 (2003): 5-20. JSTOR. Web. 15 Feb. 2011.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London, 1818. Literature.org. Web. 14 March 2012.
Smart, Carol. “Disruptive Bodies and Unruly Sex: The Regulation of Reproduction and Sexuality in the Nineteenth
Century.” Regulating Women: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood, and Sexuality. Ed. Carol Smart.
London: Routeledge, 1992. 7-32. Print.