African American Midwives and Ruby Bledsoe, a shining pride

A midwife handling her charge in the 1920’s. From The Washington Post.

I want to wrap up this Women’s History Month by celebrating a group of unsung women. They will forever remain anonymous to us but a lot of our ancestors wouldn’t be here without the diligent efforts of African American midwives or grannies, as they were called. My heroine from A Virtuous Ruby, Ruby Bledsoe, is a midwife. Despite Ruby’s youth, the old midwife of Winslow, Miss Ann, wanted to give Ruby some way of working a profession that didn’t require her to work in other people’s kitchens and allowed her a certain amount of freedom and dignity.

Ruby’s story takes place in 1915 and she represents the end point of history when these midwives thrived. These women who went out of their way to provide help and care for a woman at a most vulnerable time in a woman’s life. In the South at the turn of the twentieth century, African American midwives were the norm. Women, no matter what their racial heritage was, were happy to have these midwives come into their homes to help them maintain a sense of calm in a process that could have created a lot of upheaval. A book like Listen to Me Good, by Margaret Charles Smith helped me to structure birthing situations in my novel that allowed my Ruby to shine in her work.

However, at about that same time, early in the twentieth century, physicians became interested in the lucrative possibilities of birth. So then began two campaigns. One—the public campaign—was to dispatch public health officials to the midwives to “train them” on how to do things properly. The other campaign was more insidious, whisper tactics to have people begin to think of midwives as dirty and unsanitary. Both campaigns collided and effectively, put midwives out of business. These overlapping campaigns form the heart of the conflict for A Virtuous Ruby, when handsome physician, Adam Morson comes to town and is not at all impressed by Ruby’s midwifery skills. Fortunately things work out well for Adam and Ruby. The story is not so wonderful for African American midwives.

By the midpoint of the twentieth century, it was commonplace for women to have their babies in hospitals. However, the current rates of mother and child mortality, for a country like the United States is still too high. The rates for African American women and babies is even higher. Some say that the close care and attention of midwives is sorely needed today to help resolve this problematic issue.

I wanted to pay tribute to this silent corps of women who formed such important places of honor and dignity in the African American communities. Thank you for your service.
A Virtuous Ruby was nominated for a Golden Heart this week, my second nomination. I want to thank all of you who kept the faith over my wild child story—a romance that dares to take place at a difficult time period in American history.

6 thoughts on “African American Midwives and Ruby Bledsoe, a shining pride

  1. Congratulations on your nomination! And this is such an interesting topic – makes me wonder about the knowledge midwives had that might have been lost. Thank you for sharing this history 🙂

  2. The role of a midwife has always been fascinating to me! One of my first “dream jobs” as a kid was to be a midwife. I had read a book about a 13 year old apprentice and story intrigued me. Now I’m wanting to read Ruby’s story. 🙂 Maybe I’ll soon be able to read it in print! Congrats on the GH nomination!!

  3. Oh wow, now I’m intrigued by that book, cp! Ruby starts out when she’s 14. It’s the only kind of education she can get–until Adam comes along. Pray that one of these two publishers responds with an offer! Thank you for stopping by!

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