Joseph Bolivar DeLEE (1869-1942)

After J.Whitridge Williams (1866-1931), DeLEE was arguably the next most influential American obstetrician of the early 20th Century. He authored a popular textbook in 1913, but his role as editor of the "Yearbook of Obstetrics" for over 30 years kept his views "in the news" throughout his career.

To most, he is known for his controversial 1920 article "The Prophylactic Forceps Operation", wherein he advocated the earlier use of the forceps and episiotomy in the 2nd Stage; for this, he was roundly condemned by Williams. DeLEE was nonetheless dismayed by the enthusiastic adoption of his technique by obstetricians who were less scrupulous about the indications for intervention. The widespread use of forceps persisted well into the 1980s in many US hospitals, and proved to be a mixed blessing for mothers and their babies.

It is ironic that many of his earlier publications had decried "Meddlesome Midwifery" --a term long-used to describe premature or unnecessary intervention in the birth process. However, DeLEE was never an advocate of "natural childbirth"; indeed, the premise of his life's work was that, in a majority of cases, labor is NOT a normal function:

...the author is convinced...that not until the pathologic dignity of obstetrics is fully recognized may we hope for any considerable reduction of the mortality and morbidity of childbirth.

To this end, he believed that pregnancy and delivery should be managed by well-trained doctors, preferably in hospitals. Along with most American obstetricians of his era, he campaigned actively against traditional midwivery: Progress Toward Ideal Obstetrics.