A study of African American lay midwifery experiences in rural South Carolina, 1950--70

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Ellen Baer - Committee Chair


The persistence of lay midwifery in rural South Carolina can be attributed to the influences of poverty, segregation and lack of sufficient health care alternatives. In the early twentieth century, high maternal and infant mortality rates in South Carolina garnered national attention. Physicians and public health officials identified untrained midwives as a primary cause of high infant and maternal death rates. In an effort to decrease the complications associated with childbirth and decrease the mortality rate, southern state Boards of Health initiated strategies to improve maternal and infant health. One such strategy was institution of the supervision and regulation of lay midwives. By 1950, "granny" midwives were no longer practicing and the state required lay midwives to attend state Board of Health midwifery training programs in order to become certified to practice as midwives.This study provides a description of midwifery care giving by three African American women who were lay midwives in rural South Carolina between 1950 and 1970. The women in this study collectively delivered more than 1,000 babies. They received their training through a state mandated training program for lay midwives which emphasized the science of pregnancy and sought to eliminate any midwifery practices associated with superstition or cultural practices.The study utilized historical methodology to examine and analyze past events. Oral history methodology provided the mechanism for gathering, interpreting and analyzing the care giving experiences of three lay midwives. The themes identified in the data analysis were: accepting the call, spiritual influences, meeting the standards for midwifery, caring for the pregnant woman, newborn care and community relationships. The study concluded that midwifery training had provided an empowerment experience to the three lay midwives. The significance of the work is that it is based on accounts from African American women who lived the experience and thus are credible to tell the story of lay midwifery care. Their stories enrich our understanding of African American women and their birthing experiences in mid 20th century America.


Health Sciences, Nursing

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