Set in 19th century New York we have Axie Muldoon desperately poor, two siblings younger to her, father dead, mother helpless and alone and Axie determined to do the very best she can for her family. From the very beginning when she was such a young child, you know that Axie is going to be someone. This is not a person you can keep down.
Axie through various twists and turns ends up as a very experienced midwife in conservative New York. As a midwife her services are valued but also as someone who will help women with contraception and abortion. Axie believes in what she does and understands the plight of the women who come to her. Some of them have had five or six living children, a couple of miscarriages and only want to live to make sure their children will have the care of a mother. They are desperate and it is to Axie they turn to.
The fact that Axie becomes very wealthy in turn is a key to turning the men of the city against her and especially the doctors who feel that she is not qualified to do what she is doing. Envy is their main problem and this is fuelled by the sanctimonious feelings of a few who feel that what Axie is doing is not right.
How Axie confronts society, whilst continuing to help women in need, and how she escapes the threat of jail always hovering over her (after one experience in jail) is beautifully told. In language which is down to earth and what Axie knew when she was growing up it becomes even more descriptive as she does not have airs and graces and remains true to her roots and her original background.
The book also gives you very clearly the picture of the status of women at the time. Actually literally no status at all. There were no rights for women and particularly for wives it seems a very tough time to live in. As usual I am surprised by the degree of poverty in America and more than the poverty, the fact that a lot of wealthy Americans seemed to ignore this fact. That is always hard to even imagine. Wealthy people (all over the world) seem to live quite comfortably with poverty by their side, most of them closing their eyes and ears to this and time has not improved this.
Also very descriptive of midwifery, contraceptive and pharmaceutical practices and methods of this era - made for fascinating reading.
Another excellent read.