Midwives in the Manitoba Mennonite Community 1881-1900

A Manitoba document dated 1881-1883, was stashed away for decades, taken to Mexico in 1922, and became part of a microfilming project in 1993, which saw this document come back to Manitoba. I stumbled upon this record of births for the Rural Municipality of Rhineland and was intrigued by this “new” source. At this time the Rural Municipality of Rhineland coincided with the area known as the Mennonite West Reserve (current day Altona/Winkler area). Along with the name, date, and location of 884 children that were born in this time, the name of the midwife was also included.
With information gleaned from this record, I was able to observe the role, areas of service and identities of the midwives serving the tight knit rural Mennonite community. The Mennonites settled in villages rather than on homesteads, providing a better environment for material care. Previous research has brought a few well-known midwives to the fore; this record revealed there were 31 women who acted as the midwife at three or more births in this three year period, with one woman serving at 128 births. I explored the maternal mortality rate, pragmatic care, medicalization, and medical support the midwives provided.
The midwives received strong support from their community which was challenged by the medical establishment. The community responded by pressing their provincial political representative to successfully defend them and a compromised was reached.
Conrad Stoesz, rmca@mymts.net