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Jacob Rueff (1500–1558) of Zurich and The expert midwife
  1. P M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health, University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5NB, UK
  1. Professor Dunnp.m.dunn{at}

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Little is known of Jacob Rueff's early life except that he was born in 1500, some say in Rhyntal, others in Württemberg. Settling in Zurich he became prominent in many fields. Although primarily known as a physician, surgeon, and lithotomist, he was also a poet and writer of folk songs. He was a follower of Martin Luther and a great believer in religious freedom; indeed twice, at the age of 29 and 31, he served with the troops of Zurich against the Catholic cantons.1 ,2 His medical writings include a little book on tumours, astronomical notes for an almanac, and charts for blood letting. But easily his most important contribution was the publication of a practical handbook on midwifery in 1554. Published simultaneously in Latin and German, De conceptu et generatione hominis . . . 3 became the required reading for the midwives of Zurich, for whose instruction and examination Rueff was made responsible. A second edition appeared in 1559, and this was reprinted in Frankfurt in 1580. In 1637 an English translation was published in London with the titleThe expert midwife.4 The last edition of this work appeared in Amsterdam in 1670. Thus Rueff's book was for over a century a major source of information for midwives and doctors. As he wrote: “ . . .my labours I bequeath to all grave modest and discreet women, as also to such as by profession, practice either physicke or chirurgery. And whose helpe upon occasion of extreame necessity may be usefull and good both for mother, child and midwife.”

Much of Rueff's advice stems from that of classical writers or is taken from Rösslin's Rosegarten. A great deal is also very primitive to modern eyes. But it made a start at a …

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