The Bactra Review   Hypatia's Heritage
Naturally, Alic discusses mid-wives and their conflict with academically trained doctors at some length. The sad truth is that mid-wives lost for no very good reason, since both parties relied on the medical formula which was universal until about the middle of the last century, namely one part bedside manner, one part empirical techniques (mostly for emergencies), and eight parts rubbish. When Semmelweis introduced antisepsis into his maternity wards in the mid-1840s, he cut the risk of dying from child-birth ten-fold or more. Up to then, nobody --- doctor, midwife, surgeon, alchemist or what-not --- seems to have had the least idea about how to prevent such infections. (The story of antisepsis is, incidentally, a fine illustration of Lewis Thomas's rule that really effective medical practices are both simple and cheap, while expensive and heroic measures indicate floundering about in the dark.)