Madam Coudray’s 18th Century Manikin For Midwife Trainees

Oct 31, 2017 0 comments

This crude fabric doll of a small child emerging out of a fabric womb was one of the first life-sized obstetrical manikin used by Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray, a pioneering French midwife of the 18th century, to teach the practice of childbirth and midwifery to rural women.

Angélique du Coudray was born in 1715 into an eminent French medical family in Clermont-Ferrand. Not much is known about her early years, except from the fact that at the age of twenty-five, she completed her three-year apprenticeship and graduated from the College of Surgery in Paris. Around this time, a conflict between male practitioners, who called themselves surgeons, and midwives arose. The medical men began to assert their roles in all fields related to medicine and health, including childbirth which was traditionally taken care of by female midwives. The surgeons argued that their modern scientific techniques were better for mothers and infants than the folk medicine practiced by midwives.


Soon after Coudray’s graduation, schools began to bar women from gaining instruction in midwifery. Upset by the decision, women began to protest and demand that they be allowed to receive proper instruction to become midwives. Coudray was among those who supported female midwives. She argued that if proper training was not given to female midwives, midwives would continue to practice untrained and might cause harm to their patients. Moreover, she declared that without training, there would be shortage of midwives.

The medical community listened and female midwives once again began receiving instructions in birthing techniques. Because of Coudray’s role in helping women become midwives, she was appointed as the head accoucheuse at the famous Parisian Hôtel Dieu Hospital.

In 1759, Coudray met King Louis XV who asked her to teach midwifery to peasant women in the rural areas in an attempt to reduce infant mortality. Between 1760 and 1783, she traveled all over rural France, sharing her extensive knowledge with poor women. During this time, she is estimated to have taught in over forty French cities and rural towns and to have directly trained 4,000 students, and more than 500 male surgeons and physicians.

To aid in her teaching of rural midwives, Coudray created a life-sized obstetrical manikin she called “the machine”. The manikin was a model of the lower body of a female made of fabric, leather, and stuffing, and on occasion, real human bones to form the torso. Various strings and straps serve to simulate the stretching of the birth canal and perineum, to demonstrate the process of childbirth. The head of the infant mannequin has a shaped nose, stitched ears, hair drawn with ink, and an open mouth and tongue. The machine was so detailed and accurate that the Academy of Surgery approved it as a suitable model for childbirth practice.

Angélique du Coudray also wrote a book titled “Abrégé de l’Art des Accouchemens” containing all her lectures that she gave to midwives when she travelled across France. This 38-chapter book covered such topics as the female reproductive organs, proper prenatal care, obstetrics, various problems during birth, and various rare cases, such as a woman who was supposedly pregnant for 22 months.

Du Coudray died in Bordeaux on April 17, 1794. There is mystery around du Coudray's death because she died during a period known as the Reign of Terror—a period during the French Revolution when France was purging itself of its enemies and protecting the country from foreign invaders. Many scholars believe that du Coudray was secretly executed because she was previously commissioned and endorsed by King Louis XV. Others believe that du Coudray simply died because of old age. She was 82 years old at the time of her death.

A couple of Angélique du Coudray’s manikin are housed at the Flaubert Museum and History of Medicine, in Rouen.


Madame du Coudray's machine exhibited at the Flaubert Museum and History of Medicine in Rouen. Photo credit: Frédéric BISSON/Flickr


Photo credit: Ji-Elle/Wikimedia


Photo credit: DITTRICK Museum Blog


Photo credit: DITTRICK Museum Blog



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Sources: Wikipedia / Geri Walton / DITTRICK Museum Blog


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