Efforts Toward the Licensing of Midwifery

The national efforts toward the licensing of midwifery that began in the 1920s and 1930s were pushed by many of its earliest supporters from the ranks of professional physicians as a means of closely scrutinizing and tracking midwives until their eventual elimination.

Nurse McGreen weighing an infant: Leon County, Florida (1944)

Nurse McGreen weighing an infant: Leon County, Florida (1944)

Image number: SBH0152

Midwives

Marion County midwives at the State Board of Health Midwife Institute (1934)

Image number: SBH0232

Photographed in Saint Augustine May 19-25, 1934.

Florida’s First Midwifery Law was Passed in 1931

Florida’s first Midwifery Law was passed in 1931, although the State Board of Health had been interested in monitoring midwives since 1915 when it hired four nurses to travel the state to supervise midwives.

The new statute of 1931, however, required the licensure of midwives, whereas it had been voluntary before, and established new qualifications such as familiarity with a training manual and the attendance of at least 15 births with a registered physician. Prior to the new law, inspections of midwives' homes and methods under the direction of the Bureau of Education and Child Welfare had already pushed many midwives out of the profession, and the 1931 statute represented an intensification of regulation of midwives.

Midwives

Public Health nurse with midwives from Miccosukee (1933)

Image number: N035362

Public health nurse McGreen is in center. Photographed at the Leon County Health unit.

Discharge Certificate

This is an un-issued copy of the certificate issued by the State Board of Health awarding discharge to midwives.

One of the program' aims was the eventual total removal of traditional “granny” midwives from the practice of prenatal care and newborn delivery.

This certificate illustrates the need to honor midwives, who were often highly regarded members of their own communities, while ushering them out of an increasingly professionalized and centrally organized sector of medical care.

Proposal to Discharge

This proposal was part of discussions suggesting ways of honoring older midwives as they were eliminated from the system of child delivery.

The writer suggested providing the midwives with “certificates of merit” in lieu of actual certification. The writer crudely traces the roots of southern midwifery back to the placement of “intelligent mammies” from plantation slave populations in the “big house” to assist the owners’ families. This, the writer suggests, indicated how significant midwives had been in southern society. Whatever confidence “forefathers” had shown in them, “the elimination of midwives must come,” argues the writer, so they should be duly recognized for their years of service.

Traditional Midwife Remedies, Gathered by Julia Graves

Among her duties for the state before the Midwife Program began, Julia Graves helped register births administered by local midwives. During that work and later as an instructor of midwives, Graves encountered a variety of beliefs, sometimes grounded in practical folk medicine, and sometimes more fantastic.

She compiled these beliefs to help trained nurses better understand the midwives they were instructing, and also as evidence of the possible danger posed by untrained birth attendants and their sometimes bizarre and unhygienic practices.

Traditional Midwife Remedies, Gathered by Julia Graves

Traditional Midwife Remedies, Gathered by Julia Graves
(This document can be found in Highlights of Florida History: Midwifery.)

State Training for Midwives

In 1933, the state began offering classes at the “midwife institute” established at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, and the state held other institutes regionally in cities such as Tampa and St. Augustine. Classes emphasized basic principles of hygiene such as the importance of sterilizing equipment. Despite unquestionable success in attracting young midwives from around the state, the institute was permanently discontinued in 1946, replaced with local and county level supervision.

Midwife Bag Tag

Midwife Bag Tag

Midwife Bag Tag

This tag was given to students in the Midwife Program.

The tag listed the necessary items that they should always have in their professional bags, including sharpened razors, sanitary solution, linens, and bandages.

The tag concluded with the advice that the “Safe Midwife keeps her bag clean and ready at all times.”

Midwives

Midwives in training posing for photograph with delivery mannequin (ca. 1949)

Image number: N035364

The delivery mannequin, "Miss Chase," was made by Jule Graves, RN.

Midwife Application

Midwife Application

Midwife Application

In this application for state certification from 1941, questions include race, age, and formal training received.