Mary Harris and Andrew Lester, a dry goods merchant, were married on December 20, 1847. She was nineteen years old. Three weeks before their first wedding anniversary, with the birth of their first child imminent, Mary confided her anxiety to her diary:
I know that I shall soon be in pain and in peril and that perhaps the bed of pain may be the bed of death. My anticipations are chiefly of recovery and of hours of happiness with my beloved husband and the little one whom God may give us, but I hope I may be prepared for either event.
A week later, on December 7, 1848, at 9:15 in the evening, she gave birth to an eight-and-a-half-pound baby boy. Present were her mother, a midwife, a neighbor, and a nurse, all of whom stayed all night. In the spring of 1851, Andrew recorded the birth of their second child. At that time Mary had dispensed with all of her female supporters; only a doctor and her husband were in attendance. Three years later, when her third child was about to be born, Mary decided to forego the doctor. “She did not wish me to leave her . . . I did not go for anyone,” wrote Andrew. “We were alone all the time.” He was expected at a church meeting that evening, but noted that he was “too tired.”
Over the next twelve years, Mary delivered three more babies with only her husband to help her. Andrew became quite adept as a midwife. He was perfectly capable of supporting the baby’s head during birth, cutting the umbilical cord, and delivering the placenta, which is about all a doctor would do.
Mary Harris Lester diary, December 10, 1848, Manuscript Division (New York: New-York Historical Society).4
Andrew Lester diary, January 5, 1853, Manuscript Division (New York: New-York Historical Society).