By Keva Hoffmann Boardman –
Tokology. When you read that word, what do you think of? When I came across an old book in the Sophienburg’s collections with this title I was intrigued. If you are like me, you may have thought this book was about “the study of toking” or “a how-to book on smoking pot”. Well, it turns out we would both be wrong. In Greek, tokos means childbirth. Tokology is the study of childbirth, midwifery and obstetrics. Ah!
A couple of years ago, researcher Kathleen A. Huston contacted the museum for information on 19th C. German midwives. Now you might think that particular research subject is strange for us, but it really isn’t. With our vast collections, we help many professors, students and researchers in finding peculiar, off-beat and always interesting information.
Kathleen was in luck. I had recently searched through the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and other archival collections on midwives. It was midwives who delivered most of the babies in early Texas. There were native-born white midwives, African American “granny midwives”, Hispanic pateras and immigrant midwives from Europe. Ms. Huston had chosen to look into the midwives who were part of the influx of German-speaking immigrants of the 1840s to 1890s.
Prissy’s line in Gone With the Wind, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies,” passed through my mind. Well, it turns out that the German immigrant women in Texas knew plenty.
Kathleen Huston concentrated on three themes in her research. The first is that the German-Texan midwives seemed to view midwifery (I love the way that words sounds!) as a true profession not as “neighbor helping neighbor”. Secondly, that midwife-assisted births were as safe and even safer than physician-attended births. And thirdly, that midwives and doctors cooperated: midwives performing most of the deliveries and doctors called in for difficult or unusual situations.
I had found in the German-language Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, that as early as 1853 (the paper began its run in 1852), two German women were marketing their midwife skills much like other contemporary businessmen. Johanne Bandelow advertised as a nurse and midwife who could be reached at the drugstore of August Forcke. County records also show that Dr. Remer had her testify to the birth and birthdates of NB citizens she had helped deliver. The second woman, Elizabeth Katterle, advertised specifically to reach her rural area around Henderson’s Settlement. This area was settled in 1850, 19 miles northwest of NB on the Guadalupe and was also called Esser’s Crossing or the Guadalupe Valley community.
The 1860 Comal County census showed that two German women, Barbara Alsens and Frederika Pendalon, actually listed their profession as “midwife”. In the following years, Mrs. Madeleine Le Fevre, Mrs. Louis Dillits Leuders, Mrs. Marie Groos Haas and Mrs. Ida Habermann Tolle promoted themselves in the newspaper as midwives. According to Ms. Huston, 65% of all midwives advertising in Texas newspapers between 1850 and 1890 were of German descent.
She speculated that one reason for the prevalence of German-born midwives may have been Germany’s strong traditions of midwifery as an acknowledged profession. By 1456, the town of Frankfurt was hiring midwives as city employees. Schools for the study of midwifery were created and funded by several German towns. Many books on obstetrics and midwifery were published in German and were authored by German women. The Tokology book (1885), was written by Dr. Alice B Stockam specifically for women to give them knowledge about issues related to childbirth and women’s health. This book became a huge success, reprinted over forty-five times with hundreds of thousands of copies sold over the years.
In “Reflections” #237, Edna Voigt gave her oral history which included stories of her grandmother, Teresa Schlather Guenther. Mrs. Guenther was a well-known midwife who assisted the births of many in Sattler, Spring Branch, Smithson’s Valley, Hancock, Fischer and Wimberley. Mrs. Voigt remembers that her grandmother was in such demand in the days of large families, that she was seldom ever at home. People would come and take her to stay with them through labor, delivery and the “lying in” period that followed. Mrs. Guenther practiced midwifery from around 1910 to 1925.
Midwifery fell out of fashion during the 1940s as hospital births were pushed as a more sterile and safe location, but these early women were an integral part of Texas history. More than just “helping out a neighbor”, they saw midwifery as a calling of immense importance. They sacrificed their own family life in order to spend long periods of time to help the new mothers around them — and they were much less expensive than a doctor. For the poor, this access to quality assistance in birthing was a God-send.
You may be a descendant of one of these remarkable women. Spurred on by Kathleen Huston, I have begun a database on Comal County midwives and their biographical information. The list, including those mentioned above, includes the following women up until the 1940s: Mrs. A. Floege (1902-1905), Mrs. Berrison (1900-1909), Mrs. Elizabeth Vecker (1917-1920) (I bet she was busy after WWI!), Mrs. Rosa Sieber (1922), Mrs. Francisca Sanchez (1920s), Mrs. Elisa Phillip (1920s) and Mrs. Josefa Sirio (1930-1940s).
Also included on the list is Mrs. Lina Chapa Delgado who was a midwife from 1931 to 1971 — forty years! Lina worked together with the county nurse and local doctors to provide trusted, skilled and conscientious care especially to the growing Hispanic community within Comal County. She assisted in over 1,600 births including four sets of twins.
If you have any information on these or other local midwives from New Braunfels’ history, please call me at the Sophienburg, 830.629-1572, or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: “German Midwives of Nineteenth Century Texas” by Kathleen A. Huston, 2019; Sophienburg Museum & Archives collections: Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, New Braunfels Herald, “Reflections” programs #2 and #237, Rare Books Library, Oscar Haas collections; https://medicine.iu.edu/blogs/medical-library/Historical-Book-of-the-week — Tokology
Photo Caption: Lina Chapa Delgado helping her granddaughter Michelle Ortiz listen to her heartbeat in January 1973. On the table are instruments given to Mrs. Delgado by Dr. Hylmar Karbach, Sr., a book on obstetrics from Dr. Frederick Casto and records of some of her 1,600+ deliveries. (New Braunfels Herald negative collection, Feb 1, 1973)