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Excerpt from Memoirs by Catharina Schrader


This is a memoir written by a Protestant midwife, Catharina Schrader, who lived in Germany during the 1600s. It offers an important window into the daily lives and life cycles of non-elite women living in early modern Europe.

This source is a part of the Analyzing Personal Accounts methods module.


“Thereupon in my eighty-forth year of old age in my empty hours I sat and thought over what miracles The Lord had performed through my hands to the unfortunate, distressed women in childbirth. So I decided to take up the pen in order to refresh once more my memory, to glorify and make great God Almighty for his great miracles bestowed on me. Not me, but You oh Lord be the honour, the glory till eternity. And also in order to alert my descendants so that they can still become educated. And I have pulled together the rare occurrences from my notes.

In my thirty-eight years living in Hallum in Friesland I saw my good, learned and highly esteemed, and by God and the people loved husband, go to his God to the great sadness of me and the inhabitants, leaving six small children in my thirty-eight years of age. But then it pleased God to choose me for this important work: by force almost through good doctors and the townspeople because I was at first struggling against this, because it was such a weighty affair. Also I thought that it was for me and my friends below my dignity; but finally I had myself won over. This was also The Lord's wish.

1. 1693 on 9 January fetched to Jan Wobe's wife, Pittie, in Hallum. A very heavy labour. Came with his face upwards. A dangerous birth for the child and very difficult for me. The afterbirth had to be pulled loose. But everything went well.

3. 1693 on Shrove Tuesday (26 Feburary) in the evening I was fetched for the very first journey in my life to Wijns to a widow whose husband was called Chlas Jansen, in terrible weather, stormy wind, hard frost. The three of us travelled by sleigh over the ice. The wind blew so hard that one could not stand. Pieces of ice got stuck in my legs, so that blood dripped into my hose. And came at last by sleigh to Wijns, three hours going, we were almost dead. The people carried me into the house and forced my mouth open; and poured brandy into my mouth. There was a good fire. I thawed out a little. First I demanded a bowl with snow and rubbed my hands and feet with it until life came into them. Otherwise I would have been ruined for life. After I recovered again, I went to help the woman. And also her dead husband’s brothers had taken everything away from her and had said that she would not give birth; therefore the life of this child was of great consequence. The woman had a very heavy labour, like her previous labours had also been; she had had two midwives from Leeuwarden [in her previous labours]. I prayed to [The] Lord, and he answered me and delivered the woman of a good, big daughter to the great delight of her and me. This introduciton was oppressive for the first time. The Lord be thanked. All well. And the woman got her belongings back...

20. 1694 on 27 January I was fetched to the wife of Derck Jans, Antie, after another [midwife] had been with her two days and nights. Everything was in a terrible state. The child was deeply embedded, with the feet round the neck [and] trapped behind the pubic bone, the cord round the legs and round the neck. Must be choked. Was stuck two hours in the birth canal. had to loosen it with enormous difficulty. I had almost given up, but The Lord brought the solution. The mother does well...

161. 1697 on 30 June fetched to Oostrum to wife of Gerrben Teyepkes, farmer. There had already been another midwife there for two days. Could only help her with the first [child]. A dead child. But The Lord be thanked, I delivered her of the afterbirth within one hour. They both lay strangely. Turned them. The middle one was dead. The afterbirth was stuck, so that [there were] three children; one living, two dead. So that there were three children. They were big; the parents small, delicate people. The woman fresh and healthy...

743. 1702 on 4 May [I] was fetched to Rinsumageest to the former sweetheart of the town clerk, Veenema, who had promised to be hers in marriage, but who had left her on the advice of friends. Was four days in labour. Could not be helped. Then I was fetched and delivered her quickly through the help of my God. Yet a heavy birth, because of the heartache caused to her.

796. 1702 on 12 October delivered two sons to the knitter, Swaantie. The first came well, the second with his stomach [first]. Had difficulty with turning [it]. Still all was well for mother and children. The Lord be praised and thanked...

1672. 1710 on 5 February with Jan Gorrtzacke’s daughter, Hinke, whose husband, Wattse, was a corn merchant, who was visiting her mother. And delivered quickly of her son. Lived but half an hour. But, The Lord works mysteriously, I [was] terrified. Found that between the stomach and the belly [there] was an opening as big as a gold guilder, all round it grew a horny border. Out of this hung the intensines with the bowels. Had grown outside the body. One saw there the heart, liver, lungs, clear and sharp, without decay. One could touch wholely under the breast. It was worthy to be seen by an artist, but she did not want it to be shown. I inquired [of] the woman if she had also had a fright or mishap. She declared that she was unaware of anything, but that [when] it had been the killing time they had slaughtered a pig. They had hung it on the meat hook, and the butcher had cut out the intesines and bowels.

1795. 1711 on 10 February I was fetched to Nijkerk to Wattse Jennema, whose wife was called Alltie Jouwkes. She wanted me to attend her, but didn’t call for me. And fetched a midwife from Morra, who tortured her for three days. She turned it over to the man-midwife, doctor Van den Berrg. He said, he must cut off the child’s arms and legs. He took her for dead. Then I was fetched in secret. When I came there her husband and friends were weeping a great deal. I examined the case, suspected that I had a chance to deliver [her]. The woman was very worn out. I laid her in a warm bed, gave her a cup of candle, also gave her something in it; sent the neighbours home, so that they would let her rest a bit. An hour after her strength awakened again somewhat. And I had the neighbours fetched again. And after I had positioned the woman in labour, [I] heard that the doctor came then to sit by my side. I pulled the child to the birth canal and in half of a quarter of an hour I got a living daughter. And I said to the doctor, here is your dead child, to his shame. He expected to earn a hundred guilders there. The friends and neighbours were very surprised. The mother and child were in a very good state...

Now that I have had more than a hundred bad and heavy complicated births. There was much writing involved. Of these mentioned all were dangerous. And yet there is not one of them, whether or not they had the life and bodily health left to them, that The Lord alone had not ordained; otherwise it would have been impossible many times. Him alone the praise. I have seen over this, and to my wonder, [the memoirs are] there to be used as a guide, or after my death, so someone still may get use or learning from it, to the advantage of my fellowmen. I have [written] this in my eigthy-fifth year of old age, 1740 on 18 September. And it shall now be my last light. And I have during the time of my sinful life had a heavy time. And about over four thousand children helped into the world, these including 64 twins and three triplets.”

How to Cite This Source

"Excerpt from Memoirs by Catharina Schrader," in World History Commons, [accessed May 28, 2024]