The women…who were desperately poor and usually gave birth at home, were 10 times less likely to die in childbirth than the average American at the time. The nation as a whole wouldn’t catch up until the 1950s, after the widespread acceptance of antiseptic and the discovery of antibiotics.
There was nothing mystical about this improvement. The midwives simply understood that, instead of focusing narrowly on the birth, they needed healthy families to produce healthy babies. They treated snakebites, fevers and men shot in feuds. They made frequent house calls — 18 prenatal visits and 12 postpartum checkups were standard for an uncomplicated pregnancy.
More from Nathaniel Johnson in the WSJ [gated].