Male Midwives in Ethiopia

By Alexsandra Mitchell

A white woman lectures to a room of young black men, a model of an infant is on the desk in front of her.

Margaret Mitchell lectures in Ethiopia. WHO photo by Eric Schwab
National Library of Medicine #a013679

This photograph from our Images from the History of Medicine database (IHM), is one of many gems in our collection.  This 1960s image shows a class of male medical assistants being trained in the sacred art of midwifery by Margaret Mitchell at the Haile Selassie Public Health College and Training Center in Gondar, Ethiopia.  The image was captured by World Health Organization photographer Eric Schwab.

Established in 1948, the World Health Organization is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system.  The WHO undertook several projects in Ethiopia during this time period, to combat and overcome the shortage of health care workers in the region.  Its partnership with the Halie Selassie Public Health College lead to the training of health officers, nurses, and lab techs who later worked in teams throughout the Empire of Ethiopia.  The men being trained in this image to assist in the serious duty of midwifery are a direct result of this effort to increase the number of health care workers.   This crucial training, as part of the overall health and wellness education programs sponsored by the WHO, improved health care and likely contributed to the safe delivery of countless children throughout Ethiopia.

Eric Schwab, the French photographer responsible for capturing this image, traveled to Ethiopia in 1961, after being commissioned by the WHO for its ‘Ethiopia 9’ project in Gondar, and the Ethiopian village of Kolladuba.  According to the WHO, the goal of the project was “to organize a model health care system, investigate local health care conditions, and to extend health care service to the whole country” (World Health magazine, Jul-Aug 1962).  This picture is particularly surprising and unique because it shows the practice of midwifery being instilled in male health care workers.

portrait of Alexsandra MitchellAlexsandra Mitchell was a 2013 Association of Research Libraries Career Enhancement Program Fellow in the History of Medicine Division and a Brooklyn based international research scholar.