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Martha Ballard's Geni Profile

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Martha Ballard (Moore)

Birthplace: Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Death: Died in Augusta, Kennebec County, Maine, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Elijah Moore and Dorothy Moore (Learned)
Wife of Ephraim Ballard
Mother of Dorothy Ballard; Eunice Harford; Cyrus Ballard; Lucy Ballard; Martha Ballard and 4 others
Sister of Dorothy Barton

Occupation: American midwife, healer, and diarist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Martha Ballard

Martha Moore was born in 1735 in the small central Massachusetts town of Oxford.

She kept kept a diary from the age of fifty, without which her biography would be little more than a succession of dates -

  • Her birth in 1735.
  • Her marriage to Ephraim Ballard in 1754.
  • The births of their nine children in 1756, 1758, 1761, 1763, 1765, 1767, 1769, 1772, 1779, and the deaths of three of them in 1769. Her own death in 1812.

Her diary reveals a great deal about her life as a healer and midwife, mother and wife. She was a respected member of the community, depended upon by the inhabitants of Hallowell, Maine from 1785 until her death in 1812. We also glimpse the lives of the town's other inhabitants--the ordinary people who are normally invisible to us when we look back into the past. Her diary enriches, deepens, and complicates our understanding of everyday life in early America.

There is a copy of her diary on line

"The notice of Martha's death in a local paper summed up her life in just one sentence: "Died in Augusta, Mrs. Martha, consort of Mr. Ephraim Ballard, aged 77 years." Without the diary we would know nothing of her life after the last of her children was born, nothing of the 816 deliveries she performed between 1785 and 1812. We would not even be certain she had been a midwife."

--from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale

References and Sources

Martha Moore Ballard (1734/1735 - 1812) was an American midwife, healer, and diarist.


Ballard was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, to Elijah Moore and Dorothy Learned Moore and married Ephraim Ballard in 1754. The couple had nine children between 1756 and 1779 and lost three of them to a diphtheria epidemic in Oxford in the summer of 1769. Ballard's obituary was published on May 31, 1812, in Hallowell/Augusta, Maine.

Ballard was related to Clara Barton, known for her Civil War work and founder of the American Red Cross. Clara was the granddaughter of Ballard's sister, Dorothy Barton.

Her Diary

Between 1785 and 1812, Martha Ballard kept a diary that recorded her arduous work and domestic life in Hallowell on the Kennebec River, District of Maine. The sometimes cryptic log of daily events, written with a quill pen and homemade ink, records numerous babies delivered and illnesses treated as she traveled by horse or canoe around the Massachusetts frontier in what is today the state of Maine. Her writing also illustrates struggles and tragedies within her own family, local crimes and scandals, and provides a woman's perspective on political events then unfolding in the nascent years of the early American republic. Other aspects of society in the late 18th century and early 19th century, including daily activities, medical practices, religious squabbles and sexual mores, add color to Ballard's account.

Ballard used her diary as an accounting book and to keep records of her medical practice. For 27 years, she wrote in it every day. There were a total of 9,965 entries. Many of her early records were short and choppy, but her later entries became longer and detailed. One includes the comment that children in New England were allowed to choose their romantic interest as long as they were in the same economic class, something which was rare at that time.

She always started her entries with the weather, and then the time. For example, from an entry in Martha Ballard’s diary, she wrote “May 11, 1797 it is now 11h Evn, my family have been in bed 2 hours". Her very last diary entry states, “made a prayer adapted to my case.” [1] The diary was kept in her family, eventually coming into the care of her great-great-granddaughter, Mary Hobart, one of America’s first female physicians who graduated from the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1884, the same year that she received the diary. Hobart was the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Medical Society. In 1930, Hobart donated the diary to the Maine State Library in Augusta.

A Midwife's Tale

For many years historians did not give considerable attention to Martha Ballard's diary, generally dismissing it as repetitive and ordinary. After eight years of research, historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich produced A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812: "When I finally was able to connect Martha's work to her world, I could begin to create stories."

Ulrich's history is an intimate and densely imagined portrait of the industrious and reticent Martha Ballard, and provides a vivid examination of ordinary life in the early American republic, including the role of women in the household and local market economy, and the nature of marriage and sexual relations. Each chapter in A Midwife's Tale represents one aspect of the life of a woman in the late 18th Century. The overriding theme is the nature of women's work at that time, in the context and community. Supporting documents construct Ulrich's interpretation of terse and circumspect diary entries, dealing with medical practice and the prevalence of violence and crime.

In 1991, "A Midwife's Tale" received the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the John S. Dunning Prize, the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize in Women's History, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize, the Society for Historians of the Early Republic Book Prize, the William Henry Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine, and the New England Historical Association Award. Later, the PBS series "The American Experience" developed "A Midwife's Tale" into a documentary film, for which Ulrich served as a consultant, script collaborator, and narrator. It was directed by Richard P. Rogers, and produced by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt. Actress Kaluani Sewell Lee played Martha Ballard. When filming the series, details such as location were given close attention. The production crew chose King’s Landing Historical Settlement in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island to capture Maine's three seasons: "black flies, snow and mud." The actors wore mud-soaked shoes below historically-accurate costumes. The music in the film, played by the ensemble Orison, included shape note singing by the Word of Mouth Chorus. Source:

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Martha Ballard's Timeline

February 9, 1734
Massachusetts, USA
September 11, 1756
Age 22
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
August 28, 1758
Age 24
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
April 7, 1761
Age 27
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
March 4, 1763
Age 29
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
March 26, 1765
Age 31
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
May 17, 1767
Age 33
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
August 6, 1767
Age 33
Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts
August 6, 1772
Age 38
West Seneca, NY, USA