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The original item was published from 2/21/2023 2:54:00 PM to 3/1/2023 2:39:12 PM.

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Hampton History Museum

Posted on: February 8, 2023

[ARCHIVED] The Witching of the Virginia Midwife - March 6, 7-8 pm

SQ Midwife Woodcut 1

Join Historian D'Anne Graham for this fascinating exploration about the changing status of the Virginia midwife. Was she a witch? Pillar of the community? Agent of the state? Wise woman or uneducated killer of mothers and babies?

Hampton has a strong local association with the subject. On September 11, 1626, midwife Joan Wright is accused of witchcraft in front of Virginia’s General Court, the first known case of witchcraft in English America. Wright lived with her husband Robert and their two children at Elizabeth City (now Hampton). Men and women, most also from Elizabeth City, claimed she had made several threats against others, predicted people’s deaths, and cast curses that caused misfortunes to befall those she argued with. According to one woman, Joan Wright “was a very bad woman, and was accompted a witch amongst all them at Kickotan.” Though the accusations against Wright were serious, they were evidently not referred to trial by the General Court. The Wrights may have wished to escape hostility in Elizabeth City. In 1626, they moved to land across from Jamestown, and in 1627 they acquired land on Jamestown Island.

About the Presenter
D'Anne Graham is an independent scholar of women's health and medicine history. In the late 1990s, she was an early leader in the grassroots effort to decriminalize midwifery in Virginia through community organizing and policy work. Returning to finish her degree in 2005 and 2009, she was one of the first recipients of the Virginia Commonwealth University Undergraduate Fellowship Award when she began historicizing Virginia midwifery.

She is a recent Virginia Humanities Fellow researching the archives at the Library of Virginia for her forthcoming book A Parcel of Murdering Bitches: Childbirth and Women's Autonomy from the Original Colony to the #MeToo Movement, charting the history of birth and midwifery from Colonial Virginia to the current debates on childbirth, consent, bodily autonomy (#Me Too), and licensure. The Virginia experience reflects the larger themes of American women's childbirth experience—state control and surveillance of the female body; the usurpation of women's authority in the birth chamber by the rise of male-dominated medicine as a profession; and the influence of race and class on everything from the status of midwives to the control of racial categories on birth records under eugenics.

D'Anne has a BA in religious studies with a minor in history from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Master of Arts in Health Advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College.

The program is free for museum members, $5 for non-members. 

The Hampton History Museum is located at 120 Old Hampton Lane in Downtown Hampton. There is free parking in the garage across the street from the museum. For more information call 757-727-1102.

Image: A woman being helped to give birth on a birth chair, by two midwives. Original publication: 'Der Rosengarten' (The Rose Garden) by German physician Eucharius Rosslin, Pub 1513. Courtesy of D'anne Graham.

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