Wendy Kline, Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine at Purdue University, is internationally recognized for her scholarship in the history of medicine, history of women's health and the history of childbirth. She is the author of three major books: Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth (Oxford University Press, 2019); Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave (U. of Chicago Press 2010); and Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (U. of California Press, 2001). Her current project, “Psychedelic Birth: R.D. Laing and the Transformation of Psychiatry,” has been funded by a six-month research fellowship from the British Academy. She served as historical Consultant and speaker featured in “The Eugenics Crusade,” 2-hour documentary, PBS American Experience series, which premiered October 16, 2018.
In a decade that witnessed Watergate, violence in Vietnam, and social unrest at home, childbirth—specifically how and where women gave birth—took on particular significance in the United States. The most dramatic manifestation of this was a broad-based move toward alternative forms of childbirth. A quiet revolution spread across cities and suburbs, towns and farms, as these individuals challenged legal, institutional and medical protocols by choosing unlicensed midwives to catch their babies at home. Because the United States had virtually eliminated midwifery by the mid-twentieth century, most of these newer rebels had little knowledge of or exposure to the historic practice, drawing primarily on obstetrical texts, trial and error, and sometimes instruction from aging home birth physicians to learn their craft. While their constituents were primarily drawn from the educated white middle class, their model of care (which ultimately drew on the wisdom and practice of a more diverse, global pool of midwives) had the potential to transform birth practices for all women, both in and out of the hospital.