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Martha Moore was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, to a colonial family. She was related to Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. In 1754, she married Ephraim Ballard, a farmer, and settled at Hallowell, on the Kennebec River near Augusta, Maine. Martha Moore Ballard and her husband had nine children. She kept a daily diary for 27 years, recording her arduous work and domestic life. Written with a quill pen and homemade ink, the diary recounts babies delivered and illnesses treated as Mrs. Ballard traveled by horse or canoe around the New England frontier. The entries also describe happenings within her own family, local crimes and scandals, and a woman's perspective on the political events of the early American republic. The diary also is a valuable source of information for historians on late 18th-century and early 19th-century medical practices, religious squabbles, and sexual mores. The diary was kept in her family, eventually coming into the possession of her great-great-granddaughter, Mary Hobart, one of America’s first female physicians. Dr. Hobart donated the diary to the Maine State Library. After eight years of research and editing by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, it was published as A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on her Diary, 1785–1812. A Midwife's Tale received the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1991, as well as the Bancroft Prize, and numerous other awards and honors. PBS developed it into a documentary film for "The American Experience" series.
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