Marie Boivin

Marie Anne Victoire (née Gillian) Boivin (1773 - 1841)

Marie Anne Victoire (née Gillian) Boivin (1773 – 1841) was a French midwife.

Boivin wrote widely on midwifery, as well as other work in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, including uterine haemorrhage, miscarriage and caesarean section. She was one of the first to advocate amputation of the cervix for cancer.  

Boivin was responsible for an early classic description of hydatidiform mole and identifying its chorionic origin. She contributed to the technology of her field with a novel pelvimeter and an improved two-part speculum that could be gently widened to view the cervix

  • Born Marie Anne Victoire Gillian on April 9, 1773 at Montreuil near Versailles
  • 1797 – Married Louis Boivin.  Louis died in 1798, leaving her widowed with a baby daughter.
  • 1799 – Trained in Midwifery at the Hôtel Dieu under Marie-Louise Lachapelle (1769–1821)
  • 1802 – Gained her certificate to practise as a midwife and returned to Versailles
  • 1805 – Following the death of her daughter, Boivin returned to Paris to work at the Hospice de la Maternité.
  • 1812 – Published Mémorial de l’art des accouchements, an illustrated handbook for trainee midwives, Veuve Boivin (the widow Boivin)
  • 1814 – Prussian Order of Civil Merit. Sacked from her position at Hospice de la Maternité, for reasons unknown, but presumed jealousy by Lachapelle according to contemporary biographers
  • 1814-1819 Administrative position at l’Hôpital de Poissy
  • 1819 – Midwife in Chief at the Maison Royale de Santé. 
  • 1821 – Following the death of Lachapelle, she was offered the position of Midwife in Chief at La Maternité, but declined
  • 1827 – Honoris causa doctorate in medicine MD from the University of Marburg
  • 1833 – Published Traité pratique des maladies de l’utérus et de ses annexes (Diseases of the Uterus and its Appendages), with her nephew Antoine Dugès as co-author
  • 1835 – Retired from Midwifery
  • Died 16 May 1841

Une des plus savantes sages-femmes et la femme véritablement médecin des temps modernes. [One of the most learned midwives and the truly modern female doctor]

Bourdon 1844

Medical Eponyms
Bivalve Vaginal Speculum (1825)
Le spéculum de madame Boivin 1825

Le spéculum de madame Boivin (fig 183) est formé des deux demi-cylindres unis par leurs extrémités externes et qui, par le jeu d’une clef, d’une roue dentée et d’une crémaillère, s’écartent l’un de l’autre en conservant toujours la forme cylindrique. La dilatation portait donc à la fois sur la vulve et sur le vagin ; il y avait progrès, mais cet instrument consacrait encore l’erreur physiologique de la possibilité de la dilatation indéfinie de la vulve.

Jeannel 1877

Madame Boivin’s speculum (fig 183) is made up of two half-cylinders united by their outer ends and which, by the play of a key, a toothed wheel and a rack, move away from one of the other always keeping the cylindrical shape. The dilation therefore concerned both the vulva and the vagina; there was progress, but this instrument still enshrined the physiological error of the possibility of indefinite dilation of the vulva.Jeannel 1877

Boivin Intropelvimeter (Intro-pelvimètre de Boivin)
Intro-pelvimètre de Boivin

Mme Boivin a imaginé un compas d’épaisseur offrant l’avantage de pouvoir s’appliquer à l’intérieur du petit bassin dans le cas où l’hymen a conservé son intégrité (fig. 35). L’une des branches de ce compas est introduite dans le vagin et vient prendre appui sur la face postérieure du pubis ; l’autre branche pénètre dans le bassin, en glissant dans le rectum, jusqu’à ce qu’elle arrive au contact du promontoire. Mme Boivin, dans le mémoire où elle décrit son intro-pelvimètre, ajoute qu’il pourrait être employé comme céphalomètre pour mesurer la tête pendant l’accouchement.

Tarnier 1898

Ms. Boivin imagined a thick compass offering the advantage of being able to be applied inside the small pelvis if the hymen has retained its integrity (fig. 35). One of the branches of this compass is introduced into the vagina and comes to bear on the posterior surface of the pubis; the other branch enters the pelvis, sliding into the rectum, until it comes into contact with the headland. Ms. Boivin, in the brief where she describes her intro-pelvimeter, adds that it could be used as a cephalometer to measure the head during childbirth.

Tarnier 1898

Major Publications

  • Name: Marie Anne Victoire Boivin Gillian; Marie Anne Victoire Gillian Boivin; Veuve Boivin;
  • DOB: 1773, 1774, 1776
  • 1841: As her last act before retirement, was requested to deliver Dupuytren’s daughter. Dupuytren apparently stated Boivin ‘avait un œil au bout de chaque doigt’ (had an eye on the tip of her finger)…still trying to track down the original quote and publication…

Madame Boivin, celebrated midwife, to whom the University of Marburg granted an honorary diploma as doctor of medicine, was dissapointed in her hopes of being admitted a member of the Académie Nationale de Médecine. She avenged her wounded vanity by merely saying “Les sages-femmes de l’académie n’ont pas voulu de moi”

Bourdon 1844


BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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