Childbirth: Tools of the Physician

February 2013

Lawson Hall, 2nd Floor

Once the exclusive domain of women, childbirth increasingly became a medicalized event characterized by medical instruments and male medical specialists in 19th and 20th century North America. 

Most women gave birth at home up until the 1940s, which required attending physicians to be prepared with appropriate supplies, instruments and even paperwork at the birth.  Childbirth could be fatal for both mother and child due to premature delivery, birthing complications, excessive bleeding, infection and childbed fever. 

The role played by obstetrical instruments is debatable – were they a blessing or a danger?  Whether forceps or pelvimeters, the use of these tools by practitioners raised issues of authority and philosophical approaches to childbirth still relevant today.

obstetrics bag

Exhibit Themes


Dr. William Peyton Tew (1889-1976) | Dr Edward Spence (1876-1972)  | The Obstetrics Bag | Other Featured Obstetrical Instruments


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Acknowledgements and Credits


Research:  Shelley McKellar; Michelle Hamilton; Jasmine Fong

Exhibition Design and Installation:   Shelley McKellar;  Michelle  Hamilton; Jasmine Fong

Collections Technician: Jasmine Fong

Archival Support: Anne Daniel; Theresa Regnier

Western Archives Photographic Support: Barry Arnott

Western Archives Office Support:  Morgan Sheriff; Brenda Hutcheson


Learn more about the history of childbirth and obstetric medicine by reading:  

• Wendy Mitchinson, Giving Birth in Canada (2002)

• Jacalyn Duffin, History of Medicine (2010)

• Ivy Lynn Bourgeault, Push! The Struggle for Midwifery in Ontario (2007)