Boivin, Marie Gillain

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Marie Gillain Boivin

Considered one of the most important medical practitioners of her day, midwife Marie Gillain Boivin (1773–1841) invented medical instruments, made original anatomical discoveries, and wrote medical text books that were translated into several languages and used by many practitioners in the nineteenth century.

As noted in the Biographical Dictionary of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Website, Marie Gillain Boivin "was one of the foremost women medical researchers of the nineteenth century." In addition to being an inventor and a well–respected writer in the medical field, Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie (in her book Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century,) described Boivin as a "skilled diagnostician."

Early Years

Marie Boivin was born Marie Anne Victorine Gillain in 1773 in Montreuil, France, just outside of Paris. She was educated by nuns whose religious order ran a hospital in Étampes. In 1897, she married Louis Boivin, a government bureaucrat. They would have one daughter.

Trained to be a Midwife

Boivin was widowed early in her marriage. She became a student of the famous and well–known midwife and medical researcher, Marie–Louise Lachapelle at the Hospice de la Maternité, or Maison d'Accouchements. Boivin earned her diploma in midwifery in 1800. After her daughter was killed in a accident, she moved to Versailles and practiced as a midwife.

Worked at Maternity Hospitals

Subsequently, Boivin went back to Paris. She returned to Hospice de la Maternité as Lachapelle's assistant. She would remain there for the next 11 years. As noted in World of Invention, Boivin became known for her "skill and knowledge, especially in difficult cases; the leading surgeon of the time said she had an eye at the tip of each finger."

After a quarrel with Lachapelle, Boivin resigned from Hospice de la Maternité and then held positions at a variety of hospitals. She accepted a low–paying job at a hospital for unmarried mothers. She also became the director of several hospitals, including the General Hospital for Seine and Oise in 1814, a temporary military hospital in 1815, the Hospice de la Maternité in Bordeaux, and the Maison Royale de Santé. She also turned down a job offer from the Empress of Russia.

Discoveries in Medical Field

In addition to running these hospitals, Boivin made medical discoveries that helped not only her women patients, but also medical practitioners. She invented a new pelvimeter and a vaginal speculum, which was used for dilating the vagina and examining the cervix. She is also given credit for discovering the cause of certain types of hemorrhages, as well as causes of miscarriage and diseases of the placenta and uterus. She was also one of the first medical practitioners to use a stethoscope to listen to the fetal heartbeat.

Wrote Medical Texts

Boivin shared her discoveries through well–respected writings. Her first important writing was Art of Obstetrics published in 1812. It was used by both medical students and midwives. By 1824, it was in its third edition and had been translated into several languages. The work received a commendation from the general council of the city hospitals of Paris.

Boivin also translated works from English into French. Her treatise, One of the Most Frequent and Least Known Causes of Abortion was awarded a commendation from the Royal Society of Medicine of Bordeaux. The Matilda Joslyn Gage Website noted that probably her most important work, a medical book on diseases of the uterus, was used as a textbook for many years. It was published in 1833, and included many plates and figures, which Boivin herself colored. Boivin's writings were well–documented with other medical literature of the early nineteenth century, and were highly regarded for many years.

Received Honors

Because of leadership, writings, and discoveries that impacted the medical field, Boivin did receive some accolades. In 1814, the King of Prussia awarded her the Order of Merit. In 1827, she received an honorary medical degree from the University of Marburg in Germany. Despite these accomplishments and holding membership in several medical societies, it is said that she was disappointed that she was never accepted into the Academy of Medicine in Paris. H. J. Mozans, author of Woman in Science reflected that if the Academy had accepted woman, she most likely would have been selected.

In 1841, shortly after she retired from practicing as a midwife, Boivin died. She was living in poverty at the time of her death.


Hurd–Mead, Kate Campbell, A History of Women in Medicine, from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century, Milford House, 1973.

Jex-Blake, Sophia, Medical Women: A Thesis and a History, Source Book Press, 1970.

Mozans, H.J., Woman in Science, MIT Press, 1974.

Notable Women Scientists, Gale Group, 2000.

Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey, Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century - A Biographical Dictionary with Annotated Bibliography, The MIT Press, 1986.

World of Health, Gale Group, 2000.

World of Invention, 2nd ed., Gale Group, 1999.


"Marie Anne Victorine Boivin nee Gillain," Matilda Joslyn Gage Website - Biographical Dictionary, (December 18, 2004).