Bookplate belonging to Catherine Blaikley

Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley (ca. 1695–1771)

Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley was a midwife who, during the mid-eighteenth century in Virginia, purportedly delivered as many as three thousand babies. Probably born in York County, Blaikley married a watchmaker who, when he died in 1736, left her a substantial estate, including land in Henrico County, a mill in Brunswick County, and a lot in Williamsburg. Catherine Blaikley maintained her relatively high standard of living by becoming a midwife in Williamsburg in 1739. By the time of her death in 1771, male midwives also were delivering babies, a process that led to male physicians gradually replacing female midwives. MORE...

 

Catherine Kaidyee was probably born in York County around 1695, the only daughter and one of two children of William Kaidyee and Martha Kaidyee. She married William Blaikley, a James City County watchmaker, on September 11, 1718. The couple had at least three daughters, one of whom is known to have reached adulthood, and two sons who died young. Another child may have been William Blaikley's son by a previous marriage. The Blaikleys enjoyed a comfortable standard of living at the time of William Blaikley's death. He was buried on May 30, 1736, and his will was proved on June 21, 1736. An estate inventory taken then includes several slaves, japanned tea tables, looking glasses, pictures, a silver cup, teaspoons, and tea tongs.

Catherine Blaikley had a long and active widowhood. She inherited her husband's entire estate, including fifty acres of land in Henrico County, a mill in Brunswick County, and a town lot in Williamsburg, where she resided. As the capital of colonial Virginia, Williamsburg provided Blaikley with the opportunity to lease rooms and supply board to men who were attending to legal and political business in town. Providing lodging was an acceptable economic pursuit for a widow in eighteenth-century Virginia, and she seems to have prospered. Maintaining her own account with a Yorktown merchant, she purchased goods and paid in cash. In August 1769 she advertised for a lost red morocco pocketbook, the contents of which (seven or eight pounds in paper money, some bills, some silver, business receipts, and other papers, including one about some drugs) suggest that she had maintained her standard of living.

The reference to drugs highlights Blaikley's fame as a midwife in Williamsburg and its vicinity. She had probably begun her career as a midwife by 1739. While Blaikley was no ordinary woman, her prominence was based on socially accepted pursuits for self-supporting women. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, offering lodging and midwifery were means by which a woman could support herself in an economy based largely on credit and barter. At the time of her death the Virginia Gazette praised her as "an eminent Midwife" who brought "upwards of three Thousand Children into the World." The population of the capital consisted then of about 2,000 people, so she had delivered the equivalent of one-and-a-half times the entire population of the city.

Blaikley's life reveals the options and the limits on the options that were available to able and ambitious women in urban areas in eighteenth-century Virginia. By the time of her death male midwives were appearing on the scene, and in November 1771 another Virginia midwife announced that she had studied and practiced midwifery with the local male doctors. During the remaining years of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, physicians gradually displaced female midwives in the traditional role of assistants at childbirth.

An undated notice in a October 24, 1771, Williamsburg newspaper announced the death of Blaikley. Her tombstone in the cemetery at Bruton Parish Church gave her date of death as October 25, 1771, however, and as newspapers at this time were occasionally published a day or two after the date on their mastheads, the latter date cannot be ruled out.

Time Line

  • ca. 1695 - Catherine Kaidyee is born around this year, probably in York County, the only daughter and one of two children of William Kaidyee and Martha Kaidyee.
  • September 11, 1718 - Catherin Kaidyee marries William Blaikley, a James City County watchmaker.
  • June 21, 1736 - The will of William Blaikley is proved. An estate inventory includes several slaves, japanned tea tables, looking glasses, pictures, a silver cup, teaspoons, and tea tongs. The estate, including land in Henrico County and a lot in Williamsburg, goes to Blaikley's widow, Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley.
  • 1739 - By this year, Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley has begun her career as a midwife.
  • August 1769 - Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley advertises for a lost red morocco pocketbook, the content of which suggests that thirty years after the death of her husband, she has managed to maintain a relatively high standard of living.
  • October 24, 1771 - In an undated notice, a Williamsburg newspaper announces the death of Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley. The date on her tombstone reads October 25; newspapers at this time occasionally publish a day or two after the date on their mastheads.
Further Reading
Sturtz, Linda L. "Blaikley, Catherine Kaidyee." In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tarter, and Sandra Gioia Treadway, 534–535. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Sturtz, L. L., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley (ca. 1695–1771). (2013, August 9). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Blaikley_Catherine_Kaidyee_ca_1695-ca_1771.

  • MLA Citation:

    Sturtz, Linda L. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley (ca. 1695–1771)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 9 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 26, 2010 | Last modified: August 9, 2013