The Family of Surgeons That Got Famous by Secretly Using Forceps
The metal tools have saved many lives since the 1500s, but they’ve also come to reflect slow progress in women’s health care.
"Obstetric forceps were invented in the mid-1500s, when bloodletting was still a common medical practice. They predate the stethoscope and the germ theory of disease. They were also, for many years, a closely held trade secret. For more than three generations, as Randi Hutter Epstein writes in Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, they were used exclusively by a single family of indifferently educated surgeons, the Chamberlens, who hid the steely secret of their success.
The Chamberlens and their forceps ended this ongoing zero-sum tragedy, and became famous as the best “man-midwives” in England. To maintain their reputation and boost their business, however, they concealed their forceps in medical bags and under surgical draperies. Not until the 1700s did they release the design of their invention, and the original instruments remained within the family until 1813, when a pair of Chamberlen forceps was discovered under the floorboards of a country mansion where the family once lived."