A Midwife's Tale

Screening on Film
Directed by Richard P. Rogers.
US, 1998, 16mm, color, 89 min.
Print source: HFA

In one of his last films, Rogers worked with writer Laurie Kahn to adapt Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale, into a feature-length film for PBS’ American Experience. Ulrich’s book was already a radical text, one that used the life of an ordinary woman, Martha Ballard—as told in her own voice through the detailed diary she kept from 1785-1812—to tell a socioeconomic history of rural life in New England and to interpret the everyday struggle, violence and mundanity of women’s lives in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Combining elements of documentary and fiction, the filmmakers not only bring Martha Ballard to life on screen, but also illustrate the often hidden labor of historical research by showing Ulrich herself performing the detailed and expansive detective work of interpreting Ballard’s life through the document she has left behind.

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