Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book The Midwife's Tale was based the writings of Martha Ballard, a midwife in the late 1700s through the early 1800s who started a dairy of her daily journey's ranging from January 1, 1785 thru May 8, 1812. Her daily life can be characterized by her being an extraordinary woman living an ordinary life in a Puritan community. The diary goes thru her daily chores of herbal healing, baby deliveries, births of her nine children, and many other encounters in her surroundings. Midwifes in this day in time were constantly competing with doctors over the municipal purposes of their services. Doctors were usually more expensive and were just used in case of extreme medical purposes like fatal illnesses and injuries. Midwifes were called in 24/7 to deliver babies and help cure minor illnesses for the people who could not afford doctors. They would travel great distances and go through great ordeals in order to reach the destination "In the spring of 1789, Martha faced a flooding river and a rising tide of births. She attended seven deliveries in March and another seven before the end of April, twice her monthly average" (Ulrich 5). Many can look at Martha and say she was respected in the town and her diary also gives a better understanding of ordinary people lived whom many would not notice if they were to look back in time. Few women in this time period wrote diaries or even knew how to write so that makes her diary so much more extraordinary because someone in Oxford sat down with her and helped her develop her writing skills. Martha Ballard's entries in her diary helped historians better understand the life of midwifes and what they went through the eyes of a woman.
Historian's could look back and see Martha's journey started in Oxford where she was more of an apprentice than a midwife. The older woman of the village where usually the ones who delivered the babies and people like Martha would just be there to help out in the delivery " Most midwifes began as observers, gradually assuming a more active role, until one day, when the old midwife was delayed or willing, they "performed" (Ulrich 12).