Amy Sinclair2013 Global Scholars Symposium

Title: Herbal Remedies in 20th Century Slavic Folklore

Abstract: Until the 1930s, the Russian village midwife, or повитуха (povitukha), was the only professional available to aid women in childbirth in rural Russia. She had no formal medical training, but learned her trade from observation and experience. The midwife was endowed with mystical abilities unique to her profession, and she was integral to traditional folkloric rituals involving childbirth. However, until the 1930s, almost half of the children born in rural Russia died before they reached one year of age, and the mortality rate among women in childbirth was the highest in Europe. When Joseph Stalin became the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, he instituted massive health care reforms that changed these statistics drastically. Considering Russia’s vast land mass and lack of infrastructure, this was no easy feat. How did Stalin institutionalize and modernize medical practices in Russia? How did this affect the childbirth ritual in Russia, and the povitukha in particular? And what is the childbirth ritual like in modern-day Russia? By delving into folkloric and medical history studies, Amy’s research seeks to answer these questions and more.

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