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New York Folklore Vol. 4. Nos. 1-4, 1978
Utica Project Issue
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Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978

Karyl McIntosh

Obstetrics: “The management of pregnancy and labor.”
Gynecology: “The branch of medicine that treats women, their diseases, and their hygiene.”
Pediatrics: “Medical science that treats the hygiene and diseases of childrcn.”
When dealing with obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics, we enter essential areas of women’s lives. Due to both her biology and social role, a woman must be very much concerned with this facet of her life. During the spring of 1978, I collected and examined what might be called folk obstetric, gynecological, and pediatric practices in Utica, New York. These are the beliefs and practices concerning pregnancy, childbirth, and early childhood which are transmitted through family and common group traditions.

The strongest areas of belief and practice found among women and families were those concerned with pregnancy and early childhood. This is supported by my findings that prior to 1940 there was more family involvement with the birth process in this urban area. Since that time, the medical profession has increasingly taken over the management both of birth and of the health of mother and family from birth, with the accompanying loss of family and community-transmitted lore. Medical gynecology and the printed word have served the same function in the decline of folk remedies, predictions, and protections for women and children, but not to the degree to which they have superseded the role of the midwife or the neighbor at childbirth. On the contrary, home remedies are a flourishing branch of folk medicine in urban neighborhoods.

From the woman’s point of view there have always been many unknown elements involved in pregnancy, birth, and child rearing. Women have always sought to control or at least predict events which occur during the childbearing years, and pregnancy and childbirth especially remain times of fear and danger for the mother and baby. Lucille F. Newman has described the practices and beliefs associated with this urge to control and predict. Newman states that “...there is an implication that the environment can be manipulated, i.e., there is the possibility of conversion from whatever the present, expected state of affairs might be to the desired one.” On the other hand, women have also been concerned with prophecies, with that which is “unalterable by human intervention.” The examples of folk belief and practice, collected in Utica and described below, represent the impulse to predict and to control during this dangerous time....

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