Madame du Coudray was eighteenth-century midwife that dedicated her life to educating midwives throughout France. After ten years as a midwife in Paris, Madame du Coudray was hired in 1759 by Louis XV to travel throughout France with a goal of curbing infant mortality to boost the declining French population. Instead of creating more surgeons, the king decided that midwives should be better trained and appointed Madame du Coudray to the unusual, highly political and well-paid position of national midwife.
Du Coudray is known for presenting her theories on birth to rural French midwives, using the “machine,” a model of a pelvis with accompanying fetus and placenta to demonstrate the mechanics of birth attendant techniques. She is credited with having promoted a shift from traditional French midwifery, which emphasized the health of the mother, to the technology-as-progress medical model of childbirth that emphasized the baby as a product and a boon to the population.
The only remaining “machine” is from 1778 and is displayed in Le musée Flaubert et d’histoire de la medicine in Rouen, France.
Cassidy, T., (2007). Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born. New York: Grove Press.
The king’s midwife: a history and mystery of Madame du Coudray - Reviewed by Ann F. La Berge. (2007). Retrieved August 20, 2009, from PubMed Central Medical History: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/pagerender.fcgi?artid=1044340&pageindex=1