Angélique du Coudray

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Madame du Coudray. From Aloïs Delacoux, Biographie des sages-femmes célèbres, anciennes, modernes et contemporaines (Unknown artist. Paris: Trinquart, 1834)

Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray (c. 1712 – 17 April 1794) was an influential, pioneering midwife during her lifetime. She rose from middle–class origins to become noticed and commissioned by King Louis XV, himself.[1]


Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier Du Coudray was born into an eminent French medical family in Clermont-Ferrand. In February of 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 École de Chirurgie.[1] Du Coudray later became the head accoucheuse at the Hotel Dieu in Paris.[2][3]

She published an early midwifery textbook, Abrégé de l'art des accouchements (Abridgment of the Art of Delivery) in 1759, which was a revision and expansion of an earlier midwifery textbook published in 1667.[1][3]

In 1759, 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.[4] She was also responsible for the training of 6,000 other women who were taught directly by her former students.[3] She has also taught about 500 surgeons and physicians, who were all men.[5]

Du Coudray died in Bordeaux on April 17, 1794.[6] 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.[1]

The Machine[edit]

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 cm. 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[7] 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. Madame 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-Saȏne in 1763 in the same year she traveled to Limognes-en-Quercy and Tulle, she then traveled to Angoulȇme in 1764 and Bourdeilles in the same year then to Poitiers in 1764 to 1765 the Sablés-sur-Sarthe in 1765 her last travels took place in Périgueux in 1769 in the same year she traveled to Agen. Similar experiences took place in all these regions of the country.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e The King's Midwife
  2. ^ Stanley page 234
  3. ^ a b c Commire, Du Coudray, Angelique
  4. ^ Fissell, Obstetrics and Gynecology
  5. ^ Lindemann page 126
  6. ^ Gelbart p. 271
  7. ^ Gelbart page 61-62
  8. ^ Encyclopedia of World Biography | 2005 | Louise Bourgeois (French midwfe)


External links[edit]