Make Room for Daddy: Men and Childbirth in Mid-Twentieth Century America

Judith Walzer Leavitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Thursday, September 25, 2008 - 6:30pm

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 19 South 22nd Street, Philadelphia

Time: 6:30 p.m. Location: The College of Physicians of Philadelphia,
19 South 22nd Street
This program is free and open to the public. The lecture will be preceded by a reception, at 5:30 p.m. Judith Leavitt examines how expectant fathers fared during hospital-based childbirth in the middle years of 20th-century America, ca. 1935-1985. Until very recently, historians describing the childbirth experience entirely neglected fathers-to-be. In the popular literature expectant fathers were caricatured and ridiculed as incompetent, ignorant fools pacing in the hallways and waiting rooms of hospitals. Leavitt argues that we cannot fully understand childbirth and its changes without adding fathers to the story and analysis. Her talk (and the forthcoming book upon which it relies) rescues fathers from childbirth history’s oblivion and reveals--not so surprisingly, but still insufficiently recognized--that these men, too, helped to shape childbirth events. Leavitt will recount the stories of expectant fathers--many in the fathers' and the mothers' own voices. Her talk will remind listeners of their own experiences, and it will demonstrate that men’s childbirth stories are significant because fathers-to-be were active participants in changing hospital practices. At the same time as they tried to help their wives through their travails, these men increased available roles for themselves as they struggled to figure out their own preferences. Their accounts, whether humorous or serious, emotionally charged or ambivalent, show that men’s diverse responses to childbirth have mattered. Judith Leavitt is Rupple Bascom and Ruth Bleier Professor of Medical History, History of Science, and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has written widely on 19th- and 20th-century public health and women's health, addressing questions and issues at the intersection of science and society--that is, placing medical science securely into its social, economic, and political context. Her books include a study of Mary Mallon ("Typhoid Mary"), a history of childbirth in America, and a history of public health in Milwaukee. She is a past president of the American Association for the History of Medicine and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.