A Midwife’s Tale

by: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
3. In her universe, ‘Girls washt’ was an important statement, something on the order of ‘got across the river safely.’

Ulrich makes this statement in the January 1796 chapter after Martha talks about losing the help of her daughters, and it offers insight into the way Martha structures her diary and her life as a whole. Some historians seem interested only in the dramatic events that the diary relates, such as the Purrinton murders and the trial of Martha’s nephew Elijah Barton, but when Martha’s diary is taken as a whole, these are relatively minor matters. Martha’s diary is not a history but a life, and like all lives, it is filled mainly with work, household chores, and talks with friends and neighbors. To Martha, finishing the housework for the day and making it home safely are just as important as the shocking things that happen to her neighbors. Less important than either of these are the country’s larger political troubles, which are included in the diary only when they personally touch Martha’s life in some way. Martha’s first priority is always her own little corner of the world.

Martha is also grateful for all of the blessings to be found in that little corner, and she makes sure to acknowledge those blessings alongside the records of her work. Whenever she describes a river crossing that was more dangerous than normal, she is sure to include a thank you to God for protecting her. Though this gratitude is not specifically recorded on the more mundane crossings, she makes sure to mention each one she makes safely so that she can better remember each and every time God has kept an eye on her. “Girls washt,” for all its simplicity, holds much the same weight in her diary. Entries written after her daughters are married are filled with the stress and dislike that Martha feels toward household chores, so when she does have her daughters at home, she carefully notes each time they take that particular weight off her shoulders. Because her daughters wash, she doesn’t have to, and she is grateful for it every day.