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Women of the Hall

Photo Credit: Susanna Frohman
Year Honored: 2013
Birth: 1940 -
Born In: Iowa,
Achievements: Science
Educated In: Iowa, Illinois
Schools Attended: Marshalltown High School, State University of Iowa, Northern Illinois University
Worked In: Kuala Trengganu, Malaysia; California; Tennessee

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Ina May Gaskin

A certified professional midwife who has attended more than 1,200 births, Ina May Gaskin is known as the “mother of authentic midwifery.”

Born and raised in Iowa, Gaskin earned a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa.  She went on to join the Peace Corps and taught English in Malaysia for two years before returning to the United States to obtain a Master’s in English from Northern Illinois University (1967).

During the birth of her first child in the 1960’s, Gaskin experienced the terrible practice of having her child pulled into the world with forceps.  The incident fueled her determination to find a saner way to give birth.  A few years later, during a five-month long speaking tour with her husband, Stephen Gaskin, and more than two hundred young idealists, she witnessed her first birth, one of many that would occur during the trip.  Because many of the women were without health insurance or money to pay for a doctor, Gaskin often assisted in births by default, eventually aided by the instruction and support of a sympathetic obstetrician.

In 1971, the group purchased a large tract of land in rural Tennessee and established a cooperative community.   Gaskin located a doctor willing to serve as a mentor and medical liaison, and the Farm Midwifery Center was born.  Since its founding, more than 3,000 babies have been born on the property, with extremely low rates of medical intervention.

During a stay in Guatemala in 1976, Gaskin learned a technique for preventing and resolving shoulder dystocia, a condition that occurs during birth when the baby’s head is born, but the shoulders are stuck in the birth canal.  After using the method with great success, she began to teach and publish articles about the method.  Now referred to as the Gaskin maneuver, it is the first obstetrical procedure to be named after a midwife.

Gaskin has lectured in numerous countries and is the author of four books, including Spiritual Midwifery (1975), the first text written by a midwife published in the United States.  In 2011, Gaskin received the Right Livelihood Award, an honor bestowed each year by the Swedish Parliament; the award is often referred to as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

Additional Sources:
National Women's Hall Event in Chicago