The Monthly Nurse

January 17, 2019 at 10:32 am (diaries, history, jasna, research, World of Two Teens) (, , , )

Back in 2015, at the JASNA Annual General Meeting (Jane Austen Society of North America’s AGM) entitled LIVING IN JANE AUSTEN’S WORLD, I gave a paper that cited “True Tales of Life, Death, and Confinement: Childbirth in Early 19th Century England.” Everything was based on the many confinements relating to the family of Emma Austen Leigh and her sister-in-law Mary Smith (my “Two Teens,” now all grown up!). This spanned from the 1790s, with the recorded birth of Emma’s cousin Lord Compton, through the 1850s, when the last children born to Emma’s younger siblings were coming into the world. The treatment of mothers, in the post-natal period, throughout this span of sixty years, were remarkably consistent. One item that caused a LOT of ink to be expended concerned their use of the Monthly Nurse.

An audience member (at that talk) fairly recently asked me to remind her about the Monthly Nurse, so it was rather FRESH in my mind when I spotted, (on the website dealing with Emma’s son ARTHUR HENRY Austen Leigh), a late census report listing among the servants a Monthly Nurse!

HANNA HORSMEN, married, 55, female; birthplace: Thornbury, Gloucestershire; described in the census of 1881 as “servant Monthly Nurse”. She comes at the end of the listing of house-, parlour-, and nursery-maids. Unlike other domestics, she would not have been a “permanent” hire. (The “monthly” nurse really did only stay a month.)

And we can see, among the family members listed on the census, the reason behind the Monthly Nurse’s visit: the recent birth of Honor Caroline Austen Leigh. An interesting side note: Mrs. Hall-Say (reproduced as ‘Hallsay’), Mrs. Austen Leigh’s mother, was also visiting at the time of the census! (Census night was 3 April 1881.)

A quick internet search leads to the conclusion that many conflate “midwife” and “monthly nurse”. They are not synonymous.

(A Monthly Nurse also did not ‘nurse’ the child; if the mother had difficulty, a wet-nurse was sought.)

In my findings (albeit among generations of the same family), there was always a doctor (an accoucheur) attending the child’s birth; if “in time” (some mothers were wrong at their reckoning!) the Monthly Nurse might have been present, but her duties were mainly discharged during the month of postpartum recovery of the mother.

I can never forget the number of mothers in my 2015 JASNA audience who raised their hands, wishing they had had the services of a Monthly Nurse!

It is needless to say, the women I researched delivered in what we would think of as ‘home-births’; the Monthly Nurse ‘lived-in.’

Although I won’t list here every step taken during the month, there was a progression from being in bed to rising a few hours a day; to walking around one’s room, then walking more within the residence and coming downstairs for a meal; the end of the confinement was signaled by the comments of the mother being churched; the child being christened; the departure of the Monthly Nurse.

Side Notes:

  • In this period, children of Church of England parents were both Baptised and Christened; baptism took place soon after birth; christening occurred about the time of the mother being churched.
  • The youngest child of a family was typically referred to as BABY (although a name was given at the christening) — until the next baby came along!

royalsAs you might guess, concerning someone working so intimately with the new mother — although there were advertisements in the newspapers (see Pithers) by women offering their services (some would also offer care for the sick) – my ladies asked their circle of family and acquaintances for referrals and suggestions. They wanted their same Monthly Nurse from confinement to confinement when at all possible (Emma lost one jewel of a nurse to death).

Oddly, from the comment in one letter, it seems that the husband/father-to-be actually ENGAGED the Nurse, and PAID for her. But it was the women who were involved in finding suitable candidates.

The round of referrals doesn’t come as a surprise because the same could be said for more general servants. Letters consistently mention servants who were recommended to them by others, or by them if they were the ones who knew of someone in need of a position.

Letters have even sought comments (good or bad) from correspondents about prospective marital partners of friends. With the long tentacles that friends and family could reach, it was a remarkably effective system!

Along with the Monthly Nurse, letters make mention of “Baby Linen.” This was especially noted down in diaries – typically occurring in a list of names of women in the parish who were lent Baby Linen.

“Baby Linen” encompassed items for both ‘baby’ and ‘mother’. A fascinating list of the baby linen purchased and made for Elizabeth Austen, wife of Jane Austen’s brother (the future) Edward Austen Knight (mother of the children who show up in the George Hill photo album), in the 1790s, is included in the Brabourne edition of The Letters of Jane Austen (available online via Internet Archive); see pages 355-356 (vol. 2).

Emma’s Aunt, Mrs. Chute, had baby linen that could be given out on loan, according to her early diaries. And Emma followed suit, in the 1830s, in her diaries. How many sets each had available to lend out is unknown; lists typically do not show more than one woman at a given time. Mrs. Chute never had children of her own; I presume it was an additional set, rather than Emma’s own Baby Linen, that she offered other mothers and babies in the Parish of Tring Park (Hertfordshire), when she and James Edward Austen lived with Emma’s mother and younger siblings.

 

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Meet me in LOUISVILLE – JASNA AGM 2015

February 21, 2015 at 12:31 pm (jane austen, jasna, research) (, , , , , )

The list of breakout speakers for the 2015 Annual General Meeting of the JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA is up. Under the banner title of “LIVING IN JANE AUSTEN’S WORLD”, breakout speaker topics are diverse, and fascinating.

ja world

In the appropriately-named novel Emma, Jane Austen wrote of a marriage – that of Miss Taylor (Emma Woodhouse’s governess and dear friend) to Mr Weston, that resulted in the birth of a child! and a woman’s lying-in or “confinement” is the topic of my breakout talk, taking place in the Saturday, October 10th “D” session.

As before, that means _I_ miss some great speaker, such as: Sheryl Craig (whom I know) on “William Wickham”; Kristen Miller Zohn (whose AGM talk on miniatures I so enjoyed) on “silhouettes”; and Sue Forge on “London High Society” – which readers of this blog will know, I consider my Smiths & Goslings to be, if not “movers and shakers” in society, at least “prevalent” among the party-goers. And here’s why:

Of course, as an AMG participant, I must also pick speakers to hear. Too many to choose among!

Do I hear about Jane Austen’s ideas on being “Past the Bloom” (Stephanie Eddleman) or “A Quack or Dr. House” (Sharon Latham)?? When, equally, I’d dearly love to learn about Embroidery (which I used to enjoy) (Julie Buck)… or Estate Tenants (Linda Slothouber)… or Austen family cookbooks (Julienne Gehrer)… or Village Life (Sara Bowen)… or the treatment of poor George Austen, Jane Austen’s sometimes-forgotten brother (Bridget McAdam).

And that’s only the FIRST session!  Good thing there are several months to think over the possibilities.

I’ll say more, at a later date, about my topic — “Who could be more prepared than she was?”  True Tales of Life, Death, and Confinement: Childbirth in early 19th Century England — at a later date, but will take the time to say that many of the letters & diaries excerpts come from the copious examples of this Smith & Gosling research. From the “bantling” born in 1790 — the future 2nd Marquess of Northampton (Emma’s cousin “Lord Compton”), to the Confinements of Emma Austen herself.

And, no, I won’t forget Mrs Weston!

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McDonald’s Happy Readers

January 11, 2013 at 8:36 am (books, entertainment, europe, jasna, news) (, , , )

In the news today, something which I simply MUST applaud, even though I have no children:

McDonald’s Restaurants in the UK are replacing
(short-term promotion)
“Toys” in Happy Meals with…. BOOKS!

happymeal

Makes me think when the JASNA AGM was held in Philadelphia (2009), and the table centerpieces held mini-books. Can’t tell you which book was on my table’s centerpiece  — someone had pinched it long, long before the announcement was made that the centerpieces were giveaway gifts ….

According to the Business Insider, McDonald’s
could give away 15 million books
through 2014.

Now, isn’t a book better than yet-another-hunk-of-plastic toy or move-tie-in??! Fingers crossed that we in the States follow suit.

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