GACR Project Midwives: The Professionalization of the First Female Quallified Profession


The submitted three-year research project  is based on an analytical ground of ´”new” prosopography, which involves the collection of evidence of historical development of social and professional status of midwives in Czech lands during the years 1804-1948, followed by its critical analysis and interpretation on the methodological ground exceeding the field of historical science.

Methodology and concept:

The phenomenon of midwifery in the context of modernization in a society of the last two centuries of the Czech history is structured in the project as application of prosopography as both quantitative and qualitative method of analysis. As L. Stone declared: “prosopography is the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors in history by means of a collective study of their lives” (STONE, 1971). In consideration of the research issues we recognize as most useful the analytical approach inspired by the prosopographical study based on the notion of “field”, defined by P. Bourdieu (BOURDIEU, 1979). The prime objective will be to understand to the changing position of the midwifery, not only as a skilled profession, but as a specific social structure itself – in terms of Bourdieu as a field, which gives sociological meaning to the trajectories and destiny of the individuals (KEATS-ROHAN, K.S.B, 2007).

Project team members will observe changes in the position of midwives in the period from the early 19th to the half of the 20th century; the scope of their traditional integrity within the two centuries and gradual loss of identity and independence forcing the profession representatives to re-constitute the forms of gaining their recognition and the necessity to derive individual respect not from their practical skills but from formal education. The key element of this research will be the analysis of the distribution and use of different types of capital and within also the changes in habitus of midwives during the process of modernization of their professional status.



Research project recieved funding from the Czech Science Foundation GAČR Nr. 17-14082S for the duration of three years 1/2017-12/2019.



Database of biographical data of Czech midwives (1850-1950)

Online edition of midwife´s diaries Štatně porodila děvče

International conference History od Midwives 1850-1950 (Kutná Hora 2018)



1) Development and changes in the field of midwifery

Firstly – there must be defined the group, which will be studied. For this purpose will be used list of name records of the attendants of the courses of midwifery (later obstetrics assistants) at the universities of Prague, Olomouc and Brno.

Secondly, a numbered database of all the individuals in the list will be established by a process of record-linkage adding biographical data.

Biograms of particular midwives will be used as a background, starting from the 19th up to the half of the 20th century and based on the use of a unique set of their preserved personal records – midwife´s diaries, which concerned the description on the course of the deliveries (the oldest dates back to 1821), on ego-documents (diaries, correspondence and memoires) of the clients.

This method will enable to compare the social origin, childhood, basic education, marriage, maternity, professional preparation, place of work, performance and optionally other activities of individual representatives of the profession.


2) Spatial determination of social practice

To determine regional differences in midwives´ position and the proportion of their representation to their potential clients, a comparative study will be carried out in typologically ideal locations – large cities, small towns, villages and mountain resorts.

Factors affecting the performance and success of the profession will be monitored in regard to an overlap of midwifery with maternity wards in urban centres, or with exclusive position of the solitary representatives of the professionalized medicine in distant regions, as well as the differences in attitudes of patrimonial, religious, administration and self-administration authorities to this profession.

A comparative insight into regional differences and accessibility of midwives can give us an opportunity to find the spatial differences in the “field” of midwifery or, on the other side confirm the coherence of the social network, created on the structural basis of shared strategies of social representation and practice.


3) Impact of masculinization and professionalization on conventional obstetric practice

Institutionalization and professionalization of midwifery together with its masculinization caused the gradual weakening of traditional specialized healthcare profession. Impact of this process will be studied using examples of the new concepts and changes in midwifery.

Based on personal narratives, reactions of midwives will be observed that kept losing the verification authenticity being gradually discredited. The objective of the analysis will be, among others, to follow the argumentation line that supported the authority of practising midwives in the eyes of their patients. This will be done on the basis of preserved ego-documents with the aim to discover transformations of internal hierarchy of different type professions relating to midwifery, determination of the sphere of competence and the phenomenon of legitimization within the specifics of gaining a changeable recognition status in healthcare. 




Research project administrator:

Milena Lenderová


Fellow researchers: 

Martina Halířová

Vladan Hanulík

Zuzana Pavelková-Čevelová

Hana Stoklasová

Jana Stráníková


Research co-workers:

Martina Borovičková

Veronika Najmanová

Šárka Catilín Rábová