University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Three of the Earliest Obstetrical Books

Volume X · Spring 1955 · Number 3
Three of the Earliest Obstetrical Books

One of the most interesting volumes in the historical collection of the Edward G. Miner Library of the the School of Medicine and Dentistry is that entitled, Der Schwangerenn Frawen und Hebammen Rosengarten, literally translated "A Garden of Roses for Pregnant Women and Midwives." The author, Eucharius Rösslin was the city physician of Worms. The first edition of this book was published in the year 1513, and was probably printed in Strassburg. The edition in this library was printed in Augsburg in the year 1541 after Rösslin's death, which occurred in 1526. This is identical in appearance and contents with the earlier printing and is in an excellent state of preservation. Numerous other reprintings were made, one as late as 1730, so over a period of more than two hundred years, the book must have had a rather wide distribution.

The importance of this work lies in the fact that it represents the first printed work on obstetrics. A Danish author, Ingerslev, casts some doubt on this and mentions a small work by a Bavarian author, Ortollf. This work was an insignificant one though, and had no influence on the practice of its time. The exact date of its publication is uncertain, but it probably preceded Rösslin's work by a short period.

Rösslin's work cannot be regarded as very original as it presents to a large extent the ideas of Soranos of Ephesus who wrote early in the second century A.D. The illustrations in the book are of considerable interest. They illustrate the methods followed at the time of delivery as well as normal and abnormal presentations of the foetus. The latter are rather fantastic when compared with modern knowledge. They too are believed to be after the second century drawings of Soranos.

Rösslin's work was translated into Latin by his son, also named Eucharius, and the identity of the names of father and son has given rise to some confusion among historians. The Latin translation is entitled, De partu hominis. The author assumes the Latin variation of his name, Eucharii Rhodionis. He too was a practicing physician and city physician to the city of Frankfort. This translation also underwent numerous printings. A copy of this work published in 1532 is also on file in the medical library. This copy probably represents the first printing of this book. Later this work was also translated into French and Dutch.


A work entitled The Byrth of Mankinde is of particular interest on account of its relationship to the above mentioned volumes. It was published first in the year 1540, and was at the time of publication, dedicated to, "Lady Queene Katheryne," the wife of Henry VIII of England. This work, the first printed book on obstetrics in the English language, followed an interesting course. It went through numerous editions, the last printing being in the year 1676, so for more than a hundred and twenty-five years its contents exercised their influence on the practice of obstetrics in England. A copy of this work published in the year 1552, is also in the Edward G. Miner Library. This copy is imperfect in that the title page and the illustrations are missing. The book is essentially a translation of De partu hominis which in turn was a translation of theRosengarten.

Just who was the original translator was for a long time rather a mystery. J.W. Ballantyne of Edinburgh has made an exhaustive study of all of the available circumstances in connection with it. The translator was formerly supposed to be Thomas Raynold, a physician of London, whose name appears on the title page of at least two editions following the first. Ballantyne finds however, that the original translator was a certain Richard Jonas and that the book was printed by a Thomas Raynold. Apparently there were in London at the time, two men of the same name, one a printer and the other a physician. In the 1545 edition the title page gives the name of the author as, "Thomas Raynold, physition," elsewhere variously spelled, Raynold, Raynalde, Raynald.

It is interesting to note that in no place is credit given to Rösslin for the original work, however, Jonas does mention that the work is a translation from the Latin, though he does not mention the original author. Subsequent editions in which Raynald's name is inscribed, contain this translation and also some additions by Raynald himself.

The fact that these three works were used as standard texts in their various editions for so long a period of time, well over two hundred years, indicates how slowly new information and knowledge was acquired-in fact one might say that at that period the development of obstetrical knowledge was at a complete standstill. After all, a great deal of the information presented in these volumes dates back to the time of Soranos in the early second century A.D.