Midwifery on Trial: Dolly Browder

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Title

Midwifery on Trial: Dolly Browder

Subject

Midwife and advocate Dolly Browder played a central role in organizing midwives for legitimacy before the Montana legislature in 1989. After an intense effort, lawmakers changed state statute to allow qualified Montana midwives to practice and directed that a licensing process be put in place during the 1991 legislative session. Subsequently, midwives returned to the legislature to create the infrastructure necessary to license homebirth midwives across the state.

Description

Dolly Browder (1945-) moved to Missoula, Montana, in 1970. Initially, she worked as a teacher and started the first all-female firefighting crew in 1971. She and her husband gave birth to their first child at home on their own in 1976. Neighbors and friends learned of the birth and asked that she help them to have a home birth. In response, Browder began learning about midwifery and seeking out information about childbirth. Beginning in 1977, Browder began her own midwifery practice, helping mothers deliver their babies at home.

Over a decade of deliveries, Browder accumulated experience and assisted other area midwives in expanding their skills. Then, in 1988, she transferred a laboring client to the hospital. When the attending physician, a young doctor who was new to the area, discovered that Browder was assisting at home births, he contacted the Missoula police, with the intention of getting rid of all homebirth midwives in Montana. The police refused to act, claiming that Browder’s work broke no laws. Eventually, the Montana Board of Medical Examiners brought suit, charging Browder with practicing medicine without a license. The three-day court case became a closely watched local and national press event. At the conclusion of testimony, the judge announced his verdict – Browder was found guilty and had to cease deliveries immediately.

Browder played a central role in organizing midwives and taking the issue to the Montana legislature in 1989. After an intense effort, lawmakers changed state statute. The amended law allowed qualified Montana midwives to practice and directed that a licensing process be put in place during the 1991 legislative session. Subsequently, midwives returned to the legislature to create the infrastructure necessary to license homebirth midwives across the state.

During the last quarter of a century, Browder served as a tireless midwifery advocate. Over the course of her career, she assisted at approximately 1,000 home deliveries, mentored a host of midwives, and participated in the leadership of local, state, national, and global midwifery organizations. She retired from active practice in 2015.

Browder accumulated the artifacts, documents, and newspaper clippings contained in this collection during her years of practice.

Date

1988-1989

Collection Items

Wooden Fetoscope, Hands-Free Fetoscope
Wooden fetoscopes were used to listen to fetal heartbeats and carried to births by Montana midwives in the late 1800s and early 1900s, prior to the availability of metal and rubber models. The more modern version also pictured was secured on the head…

Pregnancy Diagram - Opaque Uterus
Midwifery care typically focuses on educating the pregnant mother about the normal process of childbirth, and Browder used this diagram (part of a set that detailed the progression of pregnancy) to make clients aware of the positioning of internal…

Pregnancy Diagram - Fetus View
Midwifery care typically focuses on educating the pregnant mother about the normal process of childbirth, and Browder used this diagram (part of a set that detailed the progression of pregnancy) to make clients aware of the positioning of internal…

The State of Montana established a process for licensing direct-entry midwives during the 1991 legislative session. Dolly Browder received the first direct-entry midwife license issued.

Provisionally Licensed Midwives, 1989
Pictured (L to R) are Leslie Fellers, Ollie Hamilton, Pat Schwaiger, Michelle Neal, Vicki Cain, Dolly Browder, and Patricia Murphy. This photograph was taken in 1991 when the listed midwives took the first national exam for licensure in Montana. …

Newspaper Article "Midwifery on Trial"
Published in the Missoulian around the time of Browder's 1988 trial.

Newspaper Article "Midwife Decision Overdue"
Published in the Missoulian around the time of Browder's 1988 trial.

Newspaper Article "Midwife's Fate Rests in Henson's Hands"
Published in the Missoulian around the time of Browder's 1988 trial.

Newspaper Article "Doctor: Woman's Care is Inadequate"
Published in the Missoulian around the time of Browder's 1988 trial.

Newspaper Article "House OKs Midwifery Bill"
Published in the Independent Record during the 1989 legislative session.
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