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Tending Communities, Crossing Cultures: Midwives in 19th-Century California


  • Regina Teresa Manocchio CNM, MSN

    Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
    • Regina Teresa Manocchio, CNM, MSN, currently works with University Midwifery Associates at the University of New Mexico, where she enjoys a full scope practice.

University Midwifery Associates, 2211 Lomas 4-ACC, Albuquerque, NM 87131. E-mail:


This article addresses the social history of midwifery and nursing on the California frontier between 1835 and 1885. Drawing on the published interviews of Juana Machado de Ridington (1814–1901) and Apolinaria Lorenzana (born in 1795), this study addresses the practice of midwifery in this culturally diverse frontier setting. The identity of the nineteenth-century Californiana midwife was based on the multiple roles she played in the communities she served. In addition to midwife (as we know it today), these identities included the role of lay minister, godmother, foster mother, and interpreter/translator. Previous histories have tended to marginalize these women and have failed to recognize their importance on the frontier both as women and as caretakers. The primary source material available tended to give only secondary attention to these midwives and their experiences. It is important that we preserve a place in history for these midwives and understand as best we can the ways in which they served their communities.