Oh Baby!

During the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, midwives commonly attended to women during childbirth, particularly in the ethnic communities in the North and in African-American communities in the South.

E.J. Kirkland at the West Florida Midwives Institute, Florida A&M College, Tallahassee, 1933

E.J. Kirkland at the West Florida Midwives Institute, Florida A&M College, Tallahassee, 1933

Marion County midwives at the Florida State Board of Health Midwife Institute, St. Augustine, 1934

Marion County midwives at the Florida State Board of Health Midwife Institute, St. Augustine, 1934

By the 1920s and 1930s, immigration restrictions, resistance by physicians, and a decreasing birthrate all led to the rapid decline of midwives in the North. In the South, however, black midwives continued to practice, at least until state health officials moved to regulate and largely eliminate a profession that they believed was obsolete.

Midwifery demonstration, ca. 1944

Midwifery demonstration, ca. 1944

Midwife feeling contraction, ca. 1944

Midwife feeling contraction, ca. 1944

In 1931, the Florida legislature passed a law for “the control and licensing of midwifery for the protection of mothers at childbirth and authorizing the State Board of Health to make regulations thereto.” The law required that midwives in Florida be licensed and that they be at least 21, be able to read the Manual for Midwives and be able to fill out birth certificates, “[b]e clean and constantly show evidence in behavior and in home of habits of cleanliness,” possess a diploma from a school for midwives, and have attended, under supervision of a physician, at least fifteen cases of labor.

Midwife washing her hands, ca. 1944

Midwife washing her hands, ca. 1944

Male midwife with his wife, ca. 1944

Male midwife with his wife, ca. 1944

Midwife with a newborn infant, ca. 1944

Midwife with a newborn infant, ca. 1944

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3 thoughts on “Oh Baby!

  1. thank you for posting these wonderful photos…a rare find as i am sure not much photography was going on in these rural communities at this time. i am fascinated about documented history of midwifery in america. i have seen midwifery documentation in europe dating back to the italian renaissance. this is excelllent…wish there was more.

  2. These pictures brought stories that I heard about my great grandmother to reality. My great-grandmother Commissa Stroman was a midwife in the early 1900s. She helped birth many babies in Springfield (Orangeburg County), SC.

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