A Midwife’s Tale

by: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
1. The mixing of governours in a household, or subordinating or uniting of two masters, or two dames under one roof, doth fall out most times, to be a matter of much unquietness to all parties.

This observation is from an early English treatise on marriage, and Ulrich uses it in the March 1804 chapter to discuss the problems between Martha and her daughter-in-law Sally. These words offer a philosophy by which Martha seems to have lived her entire life. Though she never attempts to interfere with Ephraim’s decisions and duties, Martha expects the same respect in return and assumes full authority over the responsibilities she considers hers. She alone decides what plants will be part of her garden and where each will go, and she alone manages all of the female workers who enter the house. One of the few times Martha records being truly upset with Ephraim is when he attempts to defend one of the hired girls whom Martha feels isn’t fulfilling her duties as household help. He has no experience with housework and won’t be held responsible if it isn’t completed properly, so he therefore has no business defying Martha’s authority in this area.

Martha even chose a profession that gives her complete authority over her own actions and business dealings, which was rare in early America. Though she is summoned to each birth by the family, it is her choice whether or not she will go. If a ride isn’t provided for her by the husband or family of the expectant mother, it is her job to find one, and though Ephraim or one of her sons occasionally offers her a ride, she has enough horsemanship skills to not be dependent upon them. On all but a few occasions, payment for her services goes directly into her hands rather than her husband’s, even though men are often the ones who settle the debts. If her work brings her in contact with the male doctors who also work in the area, she listens to their opinions but grows frustrated when she thinks they are interfering with her work. Her experience has proven her authority in this area, and she will not quietly accept it being questioned.