Angelique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray (c. 1712 – 17 April 1794) was an influential, pioneering midwife during her lifetime, who gained fame when men were taking over the field. She rose from middle–class origins to become noticed and commissioned by King Louis XV, himself.
Angelique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray was born into an eminent French medical family in Clermont-Ferrand. In February 1740, at the age of twenty-five, Angelique du Coudray completed her three-year apprenticeship with Anne Bairsin, dame Philibet Magin and passed her qualifying examinations at the College of Surgery Ecole de Chirurgie. Within the next few years, the school of surgery had barred female midwives from receiving instruction. After du Coudray demanded that the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris provide instructions to all midwives and midwifery students by signing a petition, du Coudray was accepted into the school.
In 1743, the status of surgeons heightened and expanded into the field of midwifery; this allowed surgeons to deny instruction to female midwives. Du Coudray and other female midwives signed a second petition and accused surgeons of neglecting their duties. Du Coudray argued that by refusing to instruct female midwives, midwives would be improperly trained and thus, would lead to a shortage of officially accredited midwives. To prevent potential harm to patients, medical doctors were evoked to solve the problem. After the situation was solved and all midwives received proper training, du Coudray became the head accoucheuse at the Hotel Dieu in Paris. By guiding and leading this political matter, du Coudray became a prominent figure in Paris.
In 1759, she published an early midwifery textbook, Abrege de l'art des accouchements (Abridgment of the Art of Delivery), which was a revision and expansion of an earlier midwifery textbook published in 1667.
In that same year, the king commissioned her to teach midwifery to peasant women in an attempt to reduce infant mortality. Between 1760 to 1783, she traveled all over rural France, sharing her extensive knowledge with poor women. During this time, she is estimated to have taught in over forty French cities and rural towns and to have directly trained 4,000 students. She was also responsible for the training of 6,000 other women who were taught directly by her former students. She had also taught about 500 surgeons and physicians, who were all men. By educating others, du Coudray became a national sensation and international symbol of French medical advancement.
Du Coudray died in Bordeaux on April 17, 1794. There is mystery around du Coudray's death because she died during the Reign of Terror and after the French Revolution just took place. Many scholars believe that du Coudray was killed during the night because she was previously commissioned and endorsed by King Louis XV. Others believe that du Coudray simply died because of old age.
Du Coudray invented the first lifesize obstetrical mannequin, for practicing mock births. It was usually called "The Machine". Each machine cost about three hundred livres to construct. They were usually made of fabric, leather, and stuffing and on occasion they would use actual human bones to form the torso. Various strings and straps serve to simulate the stretching of the birth canal and perineum, to demonstrate the process of childbirth. The head of the infant mannequin has a shaped nose, stitched ears, hair drawn with ink, and an open mouth (with tongue) into which a finger could be inserted to a depth of 5 centimetres (2.0 in). This detail was important, as it allowed the midwife to put two fingers into the mouth, to facilitate the passage of the head in case of a breech presentation. These mannequins were very detailed and also very accurate. The invention is often attributed to Englishman William Smellie, but the French Academy of Surgeons approved du Coudray's model in 1758 giving her prior claim on the invention.
She first traveled to Moulins in November of 1761 from Claremont France. Le Nain who had heard and learned a lot about du Coudray's childbirth courses in an exchange with letters with Ballainvilliers. Le Nain was extremely excited about du Coudray's arrival. Le Nain was one of the first people to secure her services in his city. In her first lesson in Moulins, eighty students showed up, and the second lesson brought seventy. Fewer students came because this was also the time of harvest and so many women were not able to make it due to their duties on their farms. Du Coudray noted how many women had no aptitude and even sent them home and only a few women really stood out to her. Her course cost the women thirty six to forty livres, which also included the certificate of completion in the end. Du Coudray worked her students hard and taught the women just the basics, but even this was enough for the women to be extremely useful in their cities. Classes took place six days a week, all morning and all afternoon and lasted around two months so that every student had plenty of time to listen to lectures and practice each maneuver several times on the machine. Occasionally she would allow her best students to perform actual live births with her supervision. In most cities she was paid three hundred livres for each month of her teaching.
Throughout the next year and a half she traveled to Burgundy, in Autun in 1761, in Bourg-en-Bresse, in Chalone-sur-Saone in 1763 in the same year she traveled to Limognes-en-Quercy and Tulle, she then traveled to Angouleme in 1764 and Bourdeilles in the same year then to Poitiers in 1764 to 1765 the Sables-sur-Sarthe in 1765 her last travels took place in Perigueux in 1769 in the same year she traveled to Agen. Similar experiences took place in all these regions of the country. As du Coudray taught midwives, she instructed them to eliminate the practice of removing near-dead infants from the womb and leaving them to die without any attempt to revive them.
The Abrege de l'art des accouchements contains du Coudray’s lectures in the order that she taught them, starting with the female reproductive organs and the process of reproduction. It then explains the issue of proper prenatal care. Finally, it discusses how to deliver infants, including how to handle common obstetric problems. The Abrege also includes rare circumstances that have occurred during the birth process, which du Coudray notes as her "observations". Throughout the book, du Coudray refers to her "machine" as a way to explain concepts. Despite its important contributions to the field of midwifery, the Abrege was neglected when it was initially published because of its small, light, unobtrusive volume. Still, the existence of du Coudray’s book served as an influential model for midwives during the eighteenth century.