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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Marie Durocher

b. 1809, Paris; d. 1893, Rio de Janeiro

French-born Maria Durocher was raised in Rio de Janeiro by her mother, a dressmaker and florist. She earned a medical degree from the College of Medicine in 1834 and established a practice that spanned sixty years. As midwife to the imperial family, she was frequently lauded in medical journals, but she also served the poor as well as liberated slaves (she even wrote an abolitionist tract). Apart from attending at births—some 5,500 over the course of her career—she performed most types of obstetrical surgeries. Durocher had a distinctive bedside manner: she wore a coat, tie, and man’s hat because, she observed, men’s clothing was more sensible in her line of work—and it inspired trust in patients. Critical of what she considered the incompetence of most midwives, she wrote the polemical treatise, Deve ou não haver parteiras? (Should or Shouldn’t There Be Midwives?), in 1870, calling for improved training and more stringent regulation of practitioners.