Women’s reproductive health in early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro

January 2019

In early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro, one in eight pregnancies ended in a stillbirth. The possibility of maternal death during childbirth also loomed large. Medical and governmental efforts tried to combat these statistics, but no real improvements in women’s reproductive health occurred before 1940.

Cassia foto final

Cassia Roth, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom)

The article Birthing life and death: women’s reproductive health in early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro, by Dr.Cassia Roth, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, shows that elevated and sustained stillbirth and maternal mortality rates marked women’s reproductive years, despite official efforts to medicalize childbirth and increase access to clinical healthcare.

Syphilis and obstetric complications during childbirth were the main causes of stillbirths, while puerperal fever led maternal death rates.

This article was published in the special dossier “Labor, childbirth and infant mortality: knowledge, reflections,  and perspectives of Revista História Ciências Saúde Manguinhos (vol.25 no.4 Oct./Dec. 2018).

Roth juxtaposed published public health data on stillbirth and maternal mortality researched at the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, Fiocruz (COC) and the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografía e Estatística (IBGE) with criminal records on the illegal practice of medicine and abortion from the Arquivo Nacional in Rio de Janeiro (AN).

She compared these two sets of sources to understand how medical trends, clinical practice, and women’s experiences intersected in the realm of reproductive health.

Related articles:
A dark reality – Cassia Roth, from the History Department at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains the connection between state policies towards reproduction in early-twentieth-century Brazil and the current situation in women’s reproductive health.

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