I am often reminded of my great-great-great grandmother, Anne Rucker. She was a midwife and is heralded as a legend in my family. A pre-teen by the time slavery ended, she was already serving as an apprentice midwife and was skilled at identifying the herbs necessary for producing herbal medicines. She walked everywhere she went, and she would travel miles to provide care to expectant mothers prior to their deliveries and return just before each baby was due.
The history of African American midwife traditions in the US is connected to slavery and likely rooted in West African religious and medical practices. Following the abolishment of slavery, many black women continued to do birth work within their communities.
Like great-great-great grandmother Anne, midwives were often referred to as “grannies” and typically gained experience in their youth working alongside a seasoned midwife. Their patients were generally women with little or no access to medical care. According to Judith Rooks’
Over time, African American midwives were gradually excluded from developments in the reproductive health care system. By the 1920s, state legislators intensified efforts to control practicing midwives with the long-term goal of elimination. Due to new regulations, midwives were required to obtain permission slips from licensed doctors to provide pre and post-natal care.
In 1953, the Georgia Department of Public Health released the film “All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story” under the direction of George C. Stoney. The goal of the film was to not only serve as a “training” guide for midwives but also promote respect of midwives by doctors and medical practitioners. Despite this apparent campaign of respectful relations, the Georgia Department of Public Health also acknowledged midwives as a “temporary and unfortunate necessity” in rural, poor, and black communities.
Hospital births became the health care standard by the
I will remember midwives like my great-great-great grandmother Anne as health care revolutionaries who created a vital medical workforce in the communities that needed their help the most. May their commitment to service be an inspiration to a new generation of community advocates and health care professionals.