To read about Victorian Mourning and Post-Mortem Photography Part 2: Go HERE
Some facts about the time: In the 19th and first half of the 20th century, everybody knew about death in childbirth, particularly those women who were about to go through the process. Although death rates from many other conditions were high, they at least were among people who had been ill beforehand. Death in relation to childbirth was mostly in fit young women who had been quite well before becoming pregnant. They died, often leaving the baby, and other children in the family from previous births, with a widowed husband.
To this who had barely lived, the families used to decide to take a post mortem photography of their children, after all this was the only the family would have of their angel.
It is only recently that the Church of England prayer book removed the service for the ‘churching of women who had recently given birth’ which starts by giving thanks to God for:
‘The safe deliverance and preservation from the great dangers of childbirth.’
From 1800 to 1950, maternal mortality was the yardstick for assessing maternity services and it was carefully examined by obstetricians. There were certain problems in defining maternal death (such as the inclusion of those associated with spontaneous abortions) and how long after delivery was the postpartum period. Until 1900 this was 1 month, and after that 6 weeks, with maternal deaths up to 1 year still being noted in Britain. It was also difficult to get the exact numbers of women dying in childbirth, for there was no national counting of deaths. Until the Registration of Deaths Act of 1837, one had to rely upon bills of mortality or parish registers.
Every modern, economically developed nation has experienced the demographic transition from high to low levels of fertility and mortality. America is no exception. In the early nineteenth century, the typical American woman had between seven and eight live births in her lifetime and people probably lived fewer than forty years on average. But America was also distinctive. First, its fertility transition began in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century at the latest.
Other Western nations began their sustained fertility declines in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, with the exception of France, whose decline also began early. Second, the fertility rate in America commenced its sustained decline long before that of mortality. This contrasts with the more typical demographic transition in which mortality decline precedes or occurs simultaneously with fertility decline.
American mortality did not experience a sustained and irreversible decline until about the 1870s. Third, both these processes were influenced by America’s very high level of net in-migration and also by the significant population redistribution to frontier areas and later to cities, towns, and suburbs.