Martha Ballard and Harriet Jacobs Term Paper

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Martha Ballard and Harriet Jacobs

When we talk about Martha Ballard and Harriet Jacobs, we have to remember that both were the pathfinders for women in the occupation that they had undertaken. As a nurse, it may be true that Martha Ballard cannot be compared with Florence Nightingale, but at the same time, one has to remember that the social background of Florence Nightingale was totally different from Harriet Bleacher. The nursing jobs that were done by them were also in totally different spheres and were it not for the famous diaries of Martha Ballard; she may have remained unknown and unsung. To a certain extent, the story of Martha Ballard and Harriet Jacobs are the same as both of them came up from the lower strata of society and probably Harriet Jacobs was worse positioned having been a slave. Again her story has collected from her own efforts -- her own efforts at writing.

Thesis Statement:

It is important to treat human beings as human beings and not attach the strata of the society that they come from as that may not reflect their personal capacities -- at least that is the spirit of America.


Ulrich, L.T., "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812." That is the name of the book written about Martha Ballard and her husband Ephraim. Both of them moved into the town of Hallowell in Maine in 1777. At that time, Martha Ballard was 42-year-old. The town of Hallowell had 100 log cabins strung out along the wide and flat Kennebec River. The town was an Atlantic seaport, 46 miles inland. Martha was literate but not educated and that is the reason why her spellings were not the normal accepted spellings of that time. Personally she was the mother of eight children, with one more came later. In spite of her being a nurse, three had died in a diphtheria epidemic eight years before. First Martha became an apprentice for a long time, and then took up the job of a midwife in Hallowell. In 1785, she also started the diary, which she kept until her death in 1812.

In the diary there were 814 recorded births by 1812 and there were possibly some more before she began writing. She did not get any facilities and had to cross the Kennebec on breaking ice in the spring. There was always the chance of death and incurable illness. She did not make much money as a midwife and had pull flax when she was not working as a midwife. Some typical entries for her read like this "Snow hail & rain. I left [Mr. Parker's] lady at 4 pm as well as could be Expected & walkt over the river. Wrode Mr. Ballard's hors home. I had a wrestless night from fataug & weting my feet."

Yet her performance was astonishing. In over one thousand births that she undertook she lost only five mothers and twenty babies. This proves that a mother was in far better hands with Martha Ballard than the mother would have been in a London hospital. Modern American deliveries were not any safer than hers toll a long time later - 1940s. The quality of midwifery was limited by the medicine the good people of Hallowell had access to. Thus the diary also provides a pharmacopoeia of that time. There is no mention of abortion, though births out of wedlock were most common.

While Martha Ballard was a free individual, though poor and compelled to take up jobs, Harriet Jacobs was born as a slave in Edenton, North Carolina in the year 1813. Delilah, who was Harriet's mother, was also a slave and owned by John Horniblow, a tavern-keeper, and her father, Daniel Jacobs, was a white slave who was being owned by Dr. Andrew Knox. Delilah did not really bring up Harriet and died when Harriet was six years old and Harriet was brought up by her grandmother. As was the custom in those times, in the year 1825 Harriet was sold to Dr. James Norcom, who made several sexual advances towards her. Normally as she was a mulatto slave and was considered to be quite fair, she might have expected a far better deal, however it is to be understood that it did not happen so. She refused all the advances of Dr. Norton. As he was rebuffed, Norcom refused her the permission to get married. Finally, Jacobs was being seduced by Samuel Sawyer, who was a lawyer, and two children were born to them which were a usual occurrence for slaves. Dr. Norcom still continued to sexually molest Harriet and threatened her that her children would be sold to a slave-dealer if she did not agree to his desires. Harriet was very frightened of this possibility as she had happened to witness the punishment of her brother for escaping and getting caught for such an act.

This led Harriet to escape to Philadelphia in the year 1834, and later she moved further to New York where she started to work as a nurse-maid. She then began writing her autobiography and that is the book we are talking about. Some of it was published by Horace Greeley in his newspaper, New York Tribune. Her account of she was being sexually harassed truly shocked the American public and when her book was completed, she had great difficultly to get it published through any publisher. Some were upset by the way Jacobs had mentioned Church's part in maintaining slavery and the way Harriet was being described in the book. Eventually the manuscript was accepted by the publishers, Thayer and Eldridge, who recruited Lydia Maria Child for editing the book. Unfortunately, Thayer and Eldridge went bankrupt during the process and it was not till the year 1861 that the book was being published in Boston as "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." Harriet Jacobs, who lived the last years of her life in Washington, died on 7th March, 1897, and her body is being buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thus it is clear that the two individuals -- Martha Ballard and Harriet Jacobs differ in a number of ways. While Martha Ballard was considered as a free person and who was to be a pathfinder in America in matters relating to that of nursing, Harriet Jacobs was a slave who brought out the difficulties which slaves in that period had to face in America by way of her writings. It is to be understood that Harriet Jacobs was younger to Martha Ballard and thus her story which she talks about deals with a later period. The problems that are being highlighted and pinpointed by Martha Ballard could be applicable to all humans, however the problems which are being highlighted by Harriet Jacobs refers only to that of the slaves. One of the most important striking points that is to be understood in Harriet Jacobs book is that it talks of the social system which prevailed in the southern part of America which helped in bringing about the continuation of the slavery system, and this matter makes it clear to all that what Abraham Lincoln did to eradicate or lessen slavery was a very bold and correct method adopted to stop this inhuman treatment of slaves as something less degrading than humans. There are of course reasons why slaves were being required only in the southern part and not in the north. The situation in the north was that it was in a developing state with several industries and they did not require slaves. But in the south the situation was different because the south depended on agriculture which required a lot on slaves.

Another question is of course with regard to the differences in the mentality between the two types of residents of America. In Martha Ballard's diary there are religious sentiments which are a kind of refrain. These punctuate and accentuate each stage of her narrative. Such a passage shows her to be a storyteller, though not a writer, at work. There are many passages of similar quality in the diary. However the regular part of Martha's entries is mundane. The structure of this diary has two workaday forms of record-keeping, the daybook and the interleaved almanac. In eighteenth-century there were "New England farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, ship's captains, and a very few housewives kept daybooks, with running accounts of receipts and expenditures."

Sometimes they combined economic entries with short notes on significant family events and comments on work that was either begun or which were completed. Some of the other early diarists used the blank pages which were bound into printed almanacs in order to keep their own tally on the weather, and additional brief entries on gardening, visits from and to the neighbors, or public occurrences which were inclusive of both the institutional and the sensational kind of things. Martha Ballard's diary had all such entries. The extant…

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