The American Experience: Season 10, Episode 8

A Midwife's Tale (19 Jan. 1998)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | History
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A docudrama adaptation of Ulrich's Pulitzer-winning book, which was based on thousands of entries in the journal of Martha Ballard, a Maine midwife, in the late 1700's and early 1800's. The... See full summary »


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Episode credited cast:
Ron Tough ...
Ephraim Ballard
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ruth Anderson
Hania Barton ...
Sam Hardin
Jim Belding
Wallace Brown
Darrel Butler
John Harold Cail ...
(as John Cail)
Paula Dawson
Sarah Evans
Alyson Green
Guy Grenier
Susan Hayward
J. Hunter ...
(as Joel Hunter)


A docudrama adaptation of Ulrich's Pulitzer-winning book, which was based on thousands of entries in the journal of Martha Ballard, a Maine midwife, in the late 1700's and early 1800's. The movie intercuts between reenactments of Ballard doing her Maine midwifery and related tasks, and Ulrich in her eight years of research on her book; in the end, clear comparisons are made between the work of the two women. Written by Anonymous

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19 January 1998 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Very important historically, though some will probably find it a bit dull....
21 April 2012 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

In this episode of "The American Experience", instead of focusing on big events or important historical figures, the show is about a very obscure woman and a part of our history we very, very rarely talk about. It's the story of a midwife who lived in Maine in the late 18th and early 19th century. Not only did she deliver babies, but this lady worked on curing a wide variety of maladies--using various folk medicine. This was THE way most folks dealt with medical issues in the day--doctors just weren't that common, plus they were, for the most part, really incompetent.

This story comes from the diaries left by the midwife , Martha Ballard, and were brought to life in Laurel Ulrich's Pulitzer Prize-winning book. The story is, uncharacteristically, told not with narration but with interviews (often with Ulrich) as well as LOTS of recreations. The recreations were very lovingly made and took a lot of effort--and I commend the show for this. And, it's a very important historical document of the times. However, as a retired history teacher, I realize that MANY couldn't care less about this sort of mundane history--so it's for a very select sort of audience. The story also does seem quite depressing at times--and gets worse as it progresses. But, if you have some patience and appreciation, I recommend you see it.

By the way, the show has a bit of nudity. But, before you get all worked up about this, it's all VERY non-sexual and appropriate for the program. I wouldn't have any problem with kids seeing this but know that some folks simply will go crazy when you see an actress playing dead and her breasts are exposed. Relax....

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