According to historians such as Doreen Evenden, research shows that “the seventeenth century [English] midwives were often women of considerable social status, both central figures in local women’s culture and representatives of the respectable part of the local population…the midwife was a ‘specialist’ whose expertise was concentrated in the area of child delivery.” (Evenden, 42, 170).”
Historical views of midwifery also illustrate a give-and-take relationship between a midwife and her community as well as a midwives’ expertise in the birthing realm. Whatever the midwives social status, all were trained through a system of apprenticeship under the supervision of an expert midwife. “A new archivally-based study of seventeenth-century London midwives has demonstrated that midwives were better trained through an ‘unofficial’ system of apprenticeship served under the supervision of senior midwives than has previously been assumed.” (Evenden, 9)
The midwife also had basic knowledge of common diseases and gynecological conditions (Evenden, 171) which, arguably, made them a threat to the economic prosperity of university trained medical men and experts in the contemporary medical profession. In addition to research from Doreen Evenden that supports midwives as experts in the medical field, the trial records themselves from seventeenth century London also demonstrate that midwives were medical experts who testified in court trails “about various forms of sexual impropriety,” (Evenden, 171), which points to the high level of respect that a community gave their midwives.
Midwifery manuals published by seventeenth century midwives themselves also act as primary sources on the subject of midwives’ involvement in birth and demonstrate seventeenth century midwives to be women with an expert knowledge in anatomy and birth during the seventeenth century.