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Place and power: A history of maternity service provision in Western Australia, 1829-1950

McKenzie, Briony (2015) Place and power: A history of maternity service provision in Western Australia, 1829-1950. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The nature and provision of maternity services is shaped by many different factors including location and time period. This thesis is a historical study of Western Australia’s maternity services during the period 1829 to 1950. It examines the influence of the medical profession, the state, midwives and women themselves in bringing about important changes to the provision of these services. The study adopts a post-revisionist feminist approach which prioritises the voices of women both as mothers and as midwives. In doing so, it questions established traditional understandings of the quality of the midwifery services offered in WA during the pioneering period and highlights the ways in which medical practitioners and governments undermined empirically-trained midwives and brought about greater state control of their activities. In this analysis, birth in the past is ‘re-normalised’ through an exploration of what birthing may have been like for everyday women and the home is reimagined as a safe and comfortable birthing place.

This study further explores important themes which have relevance to maternity care in the contemporary context. It investigates the changing location of birth and the power structures that influenced women’s experiences in different birth locations in the past. Women’s ‘choices’ in childbirth are explored with a focus on the extent to which women were limited in their decision-making by their socioeconomic and geographic status. The study questions the extent to which contemporary understandings of the social importance of birthing, including the emphasis placed on ‘choices’ and birthing location, can be applied to women of the past. It is argued that early twentieth century women in Australia had a complex and somewhat ambiguous relationship to birthing which limits the extent to which modern understandings of birth can be transposed into the historical narrative.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Sturma, Michael
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