A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 is a nonfiction historical portrait.


Martha Ballard is the protagonist of the work.


The narration of A Midwife’s Tale alternates between Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Martha Ballard’s diary entries

Point of View

The passages from Martha Ballard’s diary are in the first person, while Ulrich’s writing is in the third person.


A Midwife’s Tale is written in the past tense.


Though occasionally given to self-pity, Martha generally talks about her life in very factual terms. Ulrich only rarely disagrees with Martha’s perceptions of events and people.

Setting (Time & Place)

The actions describe in the work occur between 1785–1812 and take place in rural Maine and in Hallowell, Maine, a town that is now called Augusta.

Major Conflict

Martha struggles through the many challenges of raising a family and having a career in late 18th and early 19th century New England.

Rising Action

As Martha assists midwives with deliveries, she gives birth to eight children of her own, losing three of them to a diphtheria epidemic.


Martha and her children follow Ephraim to Hallowell, where her age and experience make her the town’s most popular midwife.

Falling Action

Martha raises her children and holds onto her career through illness, age, depression, and family trauma.


While surveying, Ephraim is attacked by settlers who feel they are protecting the land they had cleared. Later, settlers kill another surveyor and threaten the entire town for the same reason.

Before moving to Hallowell, Martha loses three of her daughters to a diphtheria epidemic. Later, Martha must help protect the children of Hallowell from a scarlet fever epidemic.

When Martha is alive, male doctors are growing in popularity and respectability. We learn from Ulrich’s comments that many years after Martha’s death, her great-great-granddaughter must follow their ways in order to practice healing like Martha did.