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Childbirth in the 1800's: Welcome to the World Alonzo Bradley

Updated on June 5, 2015

Child Birth in the 1800's

Child Birth in the 1800's, especially the first half of the 19th Century was definitely not what it is today!  Genealogy and got me started on my family tree and now I'm going to delve deep into the branches so to speak.

Catching you up, this is part two in a series of Hubs, looking at the life of my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Alonzo Bradley. With any luck this series of Hubs will also allow us to have a nice portrait of life in America in the 19th century. And with a little further luck, we can have a greater appreciation of not only ourselves but of this great nation we call home.

We're starting at the beginning. His birth. As I looked at that moment individually I thought of two very important questions.

  • What was childbirth like in 1836?
  • What was being pregnant like in 1836?

So those are the two questions we're going to tackle here and as previously mentioned, I'm looking forward to gaining some deeper insight into the history of my family and consequently this great nation. It's one thing to have built the family tree on, but it's another thing all together to try to discover specifically how they lived.

What was childbirth like in 1836?

What was childbirth like in 1836? This is my first question. Not ever having had a child or given birth, especially in 1836, I thought I'd reach out to a few experts in the field. Not only in birthing but American History and Life.

My friend Cherie Riley who knows a thing or two about Colonial Life, and pre-Civil War life as well as birthing babies (she's a mom) and has some insight. She also lives and works at Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, CA. A living history Apple Farm. If you're in the area, check it out. Good times and good fun to be had by all!

So I emailed Cherie and here's what she replied:

"Well, was she in a city or a rural area? All births were at home. Usually with family and a Doctor. Do you know her faith? Women and children that survived childbirth were strong. Many women died as a result and many children died before the age of 5. Knowing where she was and how established the town was may give you an idea of who the Dr. was. Most small towns only had one. You may be able to research public records to find more information."

OK. Good start. What do we know about Hannah? She lived in a rural part of Ohio. The Russell Township of Geauga County. In our last Hub, we learned that this was a farming community. We also know her faith. She was a Baptist. (So, how did I wind up Catholic? Great question! Oh well, could be another Hub all together!)

So who was the town doctor?

Cherie hits home with women being strong then. Many women did die in childbirth and many children didn't make it past the age of 5.

What about the minister?

The Investigation Continues

I emailed the Township of Russell.

"Hi there!

I am researching the birth of my Great(x's 3) Grandfather, Alonzo Bradley ( He was born in Russell in 1836 to Jonathan and Hannah Bradley. I'm trying to figure out how he was born. Aside from the obvious, I have questions like

-Was he born at home?
-Where was is home?
-What are the odds of the house still being there?
-Jon and Hannah were Baptist when they were married. Is there a Baptist church that old in Russell?
-Who was the Pastor in 1836?
-Was there a town Doctor in 1836 and if so, who was he?

Clearly I don't expect these answer right away, but based on these questions, can you point me in the right direction of the person most likely to know this stuff? I will be publishing these articles on-line and will be focusing on your town extensively in the beginning as Alonzo spent his childhood there. So not only will I be able to preserve a little of my family history, perhaps I can preserve a little of Russell too.

Thanks in advance,

David R. Bradley

The reply arrived in the mail (snail) a few weeks later.

I did not get the answers to all of the questions, but I did get a few more leads AND now know the location of Jonathan Bradley's grave and the lot where the Bradley family home was. It is now a park in Russell, OH. NICE!

However, this does take me off track. The question we're trying to answer here is what was childbirth like in 1836?

And, what was being pregnant like in 1836?

So back to the issues at hand. What was childbirth like and being pregnant like in 1836?

In 1836, the best you're going to do with something for the pain of birth is chloroform or whiskey. Most likely you're doing this at home, you're husband is nowhere to be seen and you're lucky if the mid wife makes if on time.

So what's available for the birth? No running water, no electricity, no heat, no drugs, no medicine, and hopefully no complications like a breach or obstruction.

Giving birth in 1836 was no easy task and many a mother did not make it. Forceps were growing in popularity and science was helping but there was still so much rumor, guessing and speculation, not to mention left over superstitions from the medieval times. Hospitals as we know them today really didn't exist. Doctors for the most part were still really just winging it.

From "A baby is born on a cold winter’s night in the 1800’s"

"As a young mother in the New Americas, you have your work cut out for you! Money is short as jobs are scarce; you know that the daily chores will be harder with more baby clothes and cloth diapers adding to your laundry. All your laundry must be hand scrubbed and washed with water that you have to bring in from the well. Keeping in mind that the well has been frozen for a couple of weeks due to a particularly cold winter this year, you may have to collect snow and melt it over your wood fire stove before washing your growing pile of infant clothes and diapers, and your own laundry.

Food has to be prepared with your wood fire stove and the wood still has to be chopped to fuel the stove. Your four other children (all under the age of 7) need you as well. You hope your husband will find a job soon and that he will be able to make trips to the local town. The nearest town is about 2 hours away by horse and carriage and he'll need to bring in monthly supplies of food and other sundries such as baby supplies, children’s clothing and more laundry soap! You bite your lip as you breastfeed your newborn and brace yourself for the busy future… "

Well if that doesn't make you appreciate modern times, nothing will. Being a mom was hard work. It still is, but my goodness, I'm sure many a mom reading this just had a smile of gratitude.

So from my continued research I am going to assume a few things.

#1. Most likely, Alonzo was born at home.

#2. More then likely, there was no Doctor present, but there's a pretty good chance of a mid-wife or perhaps a sister or older daughter. Alonzo was the youngest, so his sister Minerva, would have been about 13, so perhaps she was there. Info as to whether or not Hannah had any sisters of her own is not available to me yet.

As this quest continues I will up date this page with new leads. I'd like to see what else I can discover about Alonzo's mother, Hannah Permelia Brooks Bradley.


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    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 

      6 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Not sure what I was doing 17 months ago to miss this hub, but I enjoyed reading it today and glad you reposted it on FB. Reading the woman's experience in 1836 was interesting and perhaps the only difference now is the stove is not wood burning, so the wood does not have to be chopped. But the man may still be unemployed! and If he does work, may work hours away. And the woman may have a "bundle" of kids 7 and under in addition to the one on the way.

      Men, still, are suicidal enough to either outright say or imply to the woman who works at home that he thinks she does not work. And even in situations where the woman does work not only in the home but outside the home, often 40 hours a week, men are sometimes still suicidal and arrogant enuf to either directly say or imply that the woman does not work. So times have changed, but they haven't. The woman still carries a heavy load with little appreciation. I hope I did not carry that attitude when Roberta and I were raising David. I hear this "stuff" every day in the therapy room, and I just shake my head and sometimes laugh and outright ask the guy, "ARe you suicidal today? Because you're gonna be dead before you make it to the parking lot if you keep talking this way."


    • David R Bradley profile imageAUTHOR

      David R Bradley 

      7 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

      Pepe, that's great man! Thank you. I'm working on another one soon, so keep an eye out!

    • profile image

      Joseph G Cardona 

      7 years ago

      I have been using your articles on my AP US History classes.

    • David R Bradley profile imageAUTHOR

      David R Bradley 

      7 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

      angel115707, thanks for taking the time to read about Alonzo's entry into the world. American History at a personal level increases learning retention and appreciation for what we have now. Keep working on G-ma!

      Joyce F, thank you as well. Dead ends are challenges and opportunities. Frustrating but rewarding...

    • Joyce F profile image

      Joyce F 

      7 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed this hub. I too have done quite a bit of research into my family tree but have hit dead ends on all my families due to first one thing and another. The native Americans changed their names, one grand father was an orphan, another was born on the wrong side of the sheet so it has really been interesting. Good luck!

    • angel115707 profile image

      Angel Ward 

      7 years ago from Galveston, TX

      I love to hear you working on your family genealogy, and taking steps to preserving things we may forget in time... I have worked on mine plenty, and trying to get stories out of my grandparents before they pass... like my grandmother who was born at home too, its amazing how things have changed in just 75-100 years, to not mention early 1800's!


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