Justine Siegemund was a 17th-century Silesian midwife who wrote the first German medical text from a woman’s perspective, revolutionizing obstetrics and midwifery in her era. She was also the court midwife for several royal and noble families and developed innovative techniques to deal with complicated births. Her book, The Court Midwife, was a groundbreaking work that improved the safety and care of mothers and children.
Who Was Justine Siegemund?
On December 26, 1636, Justine Diettrich was born in Rohnstock, Lower Silesia (now Roztoka, Poland). When she was 14, her Lutheran preacher father died. Christian Siegemund, an accountant, married her in 1655. Over 42 years, the couple supported one other’s jobs and never had children.
Career as a Midwife
Siegemund was misdiagnosed with a prolapsed uterus at 20. She studied obstetrics after this terrible experience and started practicing in 1659 when she was requested to help with a misplaced fetal arm-related obstructed labor. Poor local women received free midwifery services from her until 1670. Merchant and aristocratic families became her paying clients.
Male doctors accused Siegemund of dangerous childbirth procedures, but she defended her expertise and talents. Her skill and agility impressed Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, who named her his Berlin court midwife in 1683. She delivered four of Marie-Amalie, Duchess of Saxony-Zeitz, Frederick I’s sister’s children as royal midwife. She helped Saxon Electress Eberhardine deliver Frederick Augustus II in 1696 at Augustus the Strong’s court. While in Berlin, she attended more births.
Writing The Court Midwife
Mary II of Orange may have asked Siegemund to prepare a midwife handbook after being impressed by her talents. German midwives had no conventional delivery procedure since midwifery was mostly oral. Men wrote medical literature.
The Court Midwife, published in 1690, comprised Siegemund’s birth difficulties treatments and precise anatomical illustrations. She wrote the book in German instead of Latin for a larger readership. She dedicated the work to moms and midwives.
The Court Midwife: A Groundbreaking Obstetrics Book
Written from a Woman’s Perspective
Germany’s first female-authored medical book was The Court Midwife. Siegemund described pregnancy and birthing anatomy and physiology from her personal experience. She also shared personal stories and her tips on handling certain circumstances.
Siegemund strongly challenged the male-dominated medical system in his writing. She opposed forceps, drug or herb inducement of labor, and the idea that women were inferior to men in intelligence and power.
Improving Safety for Mothers and Children
The Court Midwife was a practical guide that aimed to improve the safety and care of mothers and children during childbirth. Siegemund introduced several techniques that were innovative for her time, such as:
- The manual correction of fetal malpositions, such as breech or transverse presentations.
- The extraction of retained placenta or membranes without instruments.
- The removal of cervical tumours or polyps that obstructed labour.
- The treatment of postpartum hemorrhage with compression bandages.
- The resuscitation of stillborn infants with mouth-to-mouth ventilation.
Siegemund also emphasized the importance of hygiene, nutrition, emotional support, and ethical conduct for midwives. She advocated for the respect and dignity of women during labour, and discouraged unnecessary interventions or violence.
Legacy and Impact of Justine Siegemund
First German Woman to Publish a Medical Text
Justine Siegemund was the first German woman to publish a medical text. She broke the barriers of gender and class that restricted women’s access to education and professional opportunities in her time. She also inspired other women to pursue their interests and passions in medicine and science.
Siegemund’s book was widely read and praised by both midwives and physicians. It was reprinted several times in Germany until the late 18th century. It was also translated into Dutch in 1697 and into French in 1759. It influenced the development of obstetrics and midwifery in Europe and beyond.
Her Contributions to the Field of Obstetrics
Justine Siegemund advanced obstetrics and gynecology. Her practical and experiential approach enhanced midwifery. Her inventive and caring methods enhanced mother and child outcomes and quality of life.
Siegemund pioneered midwifery and inspired women in medicine. She received a Google doodle for her 387th birthday in 2023. Several publications and articles acknowledged her accomplishments and impact.
Justine Siegemund died in Berlin on November 10, 1705, but her legacy lives on in medicine and women’s health.