Birthing the West


Birthing the West

Mothers and Midwives in the Rockies and Plains

Jennifer J. Hill

290 pages
30 photographs, 2 illustrations, 1 map, index


March 2022


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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March 2022


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2022


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Reading the West Longlist for Nonfiction

Childbirth defines families, communities, and nations. In Birthing the West, Jennifer J. Hill fills the silences around historical reproduction with copious new evidence and an enticing narrative, describing a process of settlement in the American West that depended on the nurturing connections of reproductive caregivers and the authority of mothers over birth.

Economic and cultural development depended on childbirth. Hill’s expanded vision suggests that the mantra of cattle drives and military campaigns leaves out essential events and falls far short of an accurate representation of American expansion. The picture that emerges in Birthing the West presents a more complete understanding of the American West: no less moving or engaging than the typical stories of extraction and exploration but concurrently intriguing and complex.

Birthing the West unearths the woman-centric practice of childbirth across Montana, the Dakotas, and Wyoming, a region known as a death zone for pregnant women and their infants. As public health entities struggled to establish authority over its isolated inhabitants, they collaborated with physicians, eroding the power and control of mothers and midwives. The transition from home to hospital and from midwife to doctor created a dramatic shift in the intimately personal act of birth.

Author Bio

Jennifer J. Hill is an assistant teaching professor of American studies at Montana State University. She serves as the executive director of the Women’s Reproductive History Alliance, a digital museum dedicated to educating the public on reproductive history.


"An important and engaging read."—Meg Eppel Gudgeirsson, Journal of Arizona History

"While the book is of immediate interest to scholars of women's and reproductive history, all historians of the US West and Plains would be wise to include childbirth in their accounts of the region's transformations. Childbirth is a major event in the private lives of men and women but remains at the periphery of academic history. As Jennifer J. Hill demonstrates, both the act of childbirth and its attendant cultural meanings was a central plank in the territorial expansion of the United States."—Rachel Miller, Nebraska History Magazine

"This is an excellent resource book about a subject seldom in the forefront of Western literature."—Candy Moulton, True West

"Hill provides a clear picture of the difficulties faced by pregnant women and the fundamentally important role that female community members—especially midwives—played in the settlement of the West."—Hannah Haksgaard, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

"This book is a compelling addition to the historiography of the American West and the history of medicine. Further, it would serve as an excellent supplement to any U.S. West survey course, providing a compelling narrative to restructure how we understand the history of westward expansion, midwifery, and women's labor."—Gianna May Sanchez, South Dakota History

"Birthing the West conveys how power in intimate spaces was negotiated by women and, later, men as the northern plains region of the West became increasingly incorporated into centralized power structures."—Meg Frisbee, Kansas History

“Jennifer Hill puts women in the forefront of western history and shows the equal importance of women’s worlds in the settling of the West. She writes clearly, thoughtfully, and, in places, lyrically. Hill projects images wonderfully and makes her points well.”—Todd L. Savitt, author of Race and Medicine in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century America

“Hill’s work is very important to the historiography of the northern Great Plains states. Looking through the lens of childbirth provides unique perspectives on family formation, regional professionalization, and Great Plains settler colonialism. One of the exciting elements of this book is how women create community and ‘reproduce’ the state. There are good local stories here to enjoy.”—Molly P. Rozum, author of Grasslands Grown: Creating Place on the U.S. Northern Plains and Canadian Prairies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Birth in the Big Open
2. The Expertise of Women
3. Midwives among Us
4. The Practice of Birth
5. Death in the West
6. Birth Goes Public
7. Maternity Homes and Motherhood
Conclusion: What We Lost
Selected Bibliography


Reading the West Longlist for Nonfiction

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