François Mauriceau.

François Mauriceau.

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François Mauriceau Founds the Science of Obstetrics

Frontpiece detail from Les maladies des femmes grosses et accouchées.  Please click on link below to view and resize image of entire page.

Frontpiece detail from Les maladies des femmes grosses et accouchées.  Please click on link below to view and resize image of entire page.

In 1668 French surgeon François Mauriceau published Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchées. Avec la bonne et veritable méthode de les bien aider en leurs accouchemens naturels, & les moyens de remedier à tous ceux qui sont contre-nature, & aux indispositions des enfans nouveau-nés. Mauriceau issued his book with a frontispiece drawn by Antoine Paillet and engraved by Guillaume Vallet which included a cameo portrait of himself, illustrations of his instruments, and a notice in small print at the foot of the page with the address of his office where he could be consulted, as well as its cross-street. It was unusual in the 17th century for a medical author to advertise his practice on the frontispiece of a serious medical treatise.

Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchées established obstetrics as a separate science and became, via its many translations, a dominant force in seventeenth-century obstetrical practice. While much in Mauriceau's treatise echoed the teachings of his predecessors, the work also included several important new features, such as Mauriceau's detailed analysis of the mechanism of labor, his introduction of the practice of delivering women in bed rather than in the obstetric chair, the earliest account of the prevention of congenital syphilis by antisyphilitic treatment during pregnancy, and the rebuttal of Paré's erroneous account of pubic separation during birth. The third edition (1681) contained Mauriceau's instructions for extracting the aftercoming head in breech delivery with the aid of an index finger in the infant's mouth, now called the "Mauriceau maneuver."

Mauriceau put the book through a total of four revised editions during his lifetime and translated it into Latin in 1681. It also appeared in German, Dutch, and Italian. In 1673 the work was translated into English by Hugh Chamberlen the elder, who discovered the obstetrical forceps, and whose family succeeded in maintaining a monopoly on the use of this device by keeping it a secret from the medical world for nearly two centuries. 

♦ Mauriceau published a dedication in his book "A tous mes chers confreres: Les Maitres Chirurgiens Jurez de la Ville de Paris." This was the illustrious Confraternité de Saint-Côme established in the 13th century. In 2010 it was my privilege to sell the dedication copy of this work, which Mauriceau presented to the Paris surgical society, bound in contemporary red morocco, gilt, emblazoned on the front and back cover with an inscription that read "Ce Livre Appartient a la Compagnie des Maistres Chirurgiens Jurez de Paris."  At the end of the printed dedication Mauriceau signed with his paraph. Later he noted the publication of each new edition in 1675, 1681, and 1694, by writing a notice to that effect and signing it, thus signing the final page of the dedication a total of four times. Each of the later inscriptions were written in slightly different colored inks. In addition, all pages of the text were red ruled by the binder--a highly unusual practice for a medical book.

Norman, Morton's Medical Bibliography, 5th ed. (1991) no. 6147. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1461. Norman, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine (1995) no. 33. 

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