NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978
FOLK OBSTETRICS, GYNECOLOGY, AND PEDIATRICS
IN UTICA, NEW YORK
Obstetrics: “The management of pregnancy and
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.
Gynecology: “The branch of medicine that treats
women, their diseases, and their hygiene.”
Pediatrics: “Medical science that treats the hygiene
and diseases of childrcn.”
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to the degree to which they have superseded the role of the midwife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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