Even in the title, Jakob Ruf makes it clear to whom the booklet is addressed: "A right funny comfort booklet on the conception and birth of men for the comfort of all birthing women, and actual reports from midwives". This is the second edition of the German version.

The book begins with a novelty – a detailed description illustrated with a picture series on the development of a child in the womb. In the second part, midwives are instructed on how to behave during difficult births.

The text is not based in theory, but rather provides concrete instructions for guidelines on how to act. The images date back to medieval templates of foetal presentations. Another part is dedicated to the female anatomy. Here, Ruf relies on Vesalius' "Fabrica", which had been printed eleven years earlier. Also of interest was the treatise on various "freaks" and their interpretation; for this, Ruf drew on earlier works.


The comfort booklet was published in 1554 in German and Latin. The German version was addressed primarily to midwives, the Latin to professional colleagues and learned doctors. Both editions met with brisk demand. The Latin version was republished several times in the 1580s. The German-language version had already appeared in Zurich in the rare edition of 1569. After that, the comfort booklet was reprinted several times in German and other languages.

One reason for the high sales was the fascinating illustrations in the work by the still young artist Jos Murer. In contrast to the representation of anatomical dissections, the woodcuts in the comfort booklet focus on obstetrics. The midwife is not supposed to imagine corpses; rather, the images connect the midwife with the birthing woman.

In addition to these lively illustrations, the original and unconventional essays on embryonic development and obstetric instruments contributed to the popularity of the work.


Jacob Ruf was born in Konstanz in 1505. The oldest child of a poor family, he entered a monastery in Chur. Galvanised by the Protestant Reformation, he left the monastery in the 1520s, and completed an apprenticeship as a shearer. In the autumn of 1532, he took up the post of city surgeon in Zurich and was awarded the rights of a citizen of Zurich. His task was to treat poor patients surgically for free, ranging from the removal of bladder stones to the setting of fractures to surgical procedures for goitres, tumours, eye diseases and dropsy.

In 1552, there was a sensational event: Ruf was named the interim city physician of Zurich. Although he had never attended university, he fulfilled this highest medical office for two years. Even after Conrad Gessner became city physician in 1554, Ruf continued to carry out much of the work of a city physician; for example, the training and examination of midwives. In addition to medical works such as a manuscript on ophthalmology, a tumour booklet and the comfort booklet, Ruf authored literary works. They dealt with sin and piety and addressed pressing issues of the time. Four of his plays were performed as city-wide events.

When he was about 25 years old, Ruf married the wealthy Kleophe Schenkli of Zurich. The pair had a daughter, Anna, who married one of Ruf's pupils. After his father-in-law's death in 1558, he filled the latter's position as city surgeon.


The comfort booklet quickly became the examination syllabus for midwives. Independently of the quality of the teaching aids, the expert role of men became connected with a takeover of the power of interpretation over health matters. The theoretical knowledge of the female body developed by men became a requirement of being able to practise as a midwife. In contrast, the passing on of practical obstetrical knowledge, which had been done from woman to woman, lost its importance.

Jacob Ruf's work took place in the context of a larger process. In Paris, London and Frankfurt, physicians and surgeons became concerned with the art of delivery and began opening midwifery schools and training male obstetricians. The midwife, previously selected by the local women, now had to allow herself to be tested by men. Although

men still only attended births in exceptional cases, the identity of obstetrics was changed. It was no longer an assistance for healthy women; rather, it was now a speciality area of surgical medicine. Ruf's comfort booklet and analogous obstetrical works cemented the new power relationship between the sexes.

Jacob Ruf
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