François Mauriceau (1637-1709)
The Diseases of Women with Child, and in Child-bed…. London: Printed for A. Bell, 1716. Fulltext available through Eighteenth Century Collections Online (UVa access only)
- François Mauriceau, The Diseases of Women with Child…. This is the cover of our edition translated by Chamberlen.
- François Mauriceau, The Diseases of Women with Child…. Mauriceau includes this drawing and the corresponding description “Of the Parts of a Woman destin’d to Generation.”
- François Mauriceau, The Diseases of Women with Child…. This is another drawing and description concerning “Of the Parts of a Woman destin’d to Generation.”
- François Mauriceau, The Diseases of Women with Child…. These illustrate various presentations of the child in the womb.
The Parisian François Mauriceau was a master-surgeon and leading obstetrician of his day. His Traité des maladies des femmes grosses, et de celles qui sont accouchées was initially published in 1668. The book helped establish obstetrics as a distinct specialty and was the first of many editions in several languages. It was translated into English within five years of the original edition by Hugh Chamberlen, whose family had developed and kept a monopoly on the use of obstetrical forceps for several generations. Our earliest copy is the fifth edition translated by Chamberlen.
Mauriceau gives the first written account of how to prevent congenital syphilis by providing prenatal treatment. He is also the first to discuss tubal pregnancies, epidemic puerperal fever, and the dangers present when the umbilical cord slips into the vagina before the unborn baby. He advocates a reclining position in bed rather than sitting on a birthing stool or chair for delivery. This “French Position” permitted the obstetrician to more easily examine the patient and perform procedures. Its use quickly spread in Europe and North America.
Before he discusses the diseases of women, Mauriceau gives an anatomy lesson in the section “Of the Parts of a Woman destin’d to Generation.” He claims that the womb “causeth most Diseases in Women.” Mauriceau was personally well aware of the great danger of pregnancy. His own sister hemorrhaged and died as a result of placenta previa. In a chapter entitled, “Of those Births wherein the Infant presents Belly, Breast, or Side,” he states,
Wherefore the worst and most dangerous Figure that a Child can Offer in the Womb to the Birth, is the Belly or the Breast; for then its Body is constrain’d to bend backwards, And whatever Throws or Endeavours the Woman makes to bring it forth, it will never be accomplish’d; for she will sooner perish with her Child, than ever advance it in this Posture into the Passage: Wherefore it is in great danger, if not timely succour’d.