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Midwife going on a call, carrying her kit, near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia. Photo by Jack Delano, October 1941. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c29211

Shadowing a Midwife in Greene County, Georgia

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Over the past several years the following photograph from the Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) Photograph Collection has appeared multiple times in my results when searching the online catalog. Each time, it has caught my attention, but because it has not been the target of my specific queries, I never took the opportunity to look closely at the image or its context –until now.

A bottom-up view of a woman walking along a rural dirt road in the absence of any buildings apart from one small wooden structure.
Midwife going on a call, carrying her kit, near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia. Photo by Jack Delano, October 1941. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c29211

The historical caption for the image, made by FSA photographer Jack Delano, does not name the woman in the photograph, but tells us about her occupation and where she is headed: “Midwife going on a call, carrying her kit, near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia.”

With its bottom-up view of the woman walking along a rural dirt road in the absence of any buildings apart from one small wooden structure, the photo seems to suggest this woman has some distance to go before she reaches her patient.

From the dates and negative numbers of the associated images, we learn that Delano photographed this woman in May of 1941 and returned later that year, in October or November, when he captured her while headed out to call on a patient as seen above.

The following photo, taken in May, centers her in the frame as she sits, and artfully features a cat visible through the door on the left:

Photo shows woman at the center of the frame as she sits. A cat is visible through the door on the left side of the image.
Negro midwife in her house near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia. Photo by Jack Delano, May 1941. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c05728

Another, taken in May, shows the midwife standing in her doorway and appears to show the surrounding foliage in full bloom:

Photo shows a wooden cabin with a woman standing in the doorway. Spring foliage surrounds the structure.
Midwife in doorway of her house. Near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia. Photo by Jack Delano, May 1941. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c05709

Some images taken by Delano in the fall show the midwife preparing to leave for her patient visit. The following photo shows some of the items she carries in her kit when making house calls: clean cloth, Johnson’s baby powder, and Moroline petroleum jelly among others.

Midwife wraps her kit containing clean cloth, baby powder, petroleum jelly, and more as she prepares to go on a call.
Midwife wrapping her kit to go on a call in Greene County, Georgia. Photo by Jack Delano, October 1941. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c29209

This view of the midwife walking along the path outside her front door reveals the change in season, with some of the trees having lost their leaves:

Photo shows woman walking down dirt pathway outside wooden cabin.
Midwife going out on a call near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia. Photo by Jack Delano, October 1941. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c29226

There is so much that these photos do not reveal about her work – how far she travelled to her patients, how frequently she visited them, what the outcomes were for both the women and their infants. Even such a small view into her experience, however, shows that her work couldn’t have been easy.

I looked through the supplementary documentation in our written records related to the FSA photographs and was not too surprised that the files did not provide any additional information about this specific woman, since that kind of information is often not available. But I did learn a bit about the Farm Security Administration’s efforts in Greene County, Georgia from an FSA brochure, including the fact that the agency was working to improve access to medical care for “prenatal mothers.” Given a reference in the brochure to the “importance of periodic visits to the doctor,” it seems likely that the photographs of this midwife were meant to depict a more traditional approach to medicine. Whether or not she was part of the FSA’s new health program, one senses that this midwife has been serving members of her community as an experienced practitioner for some time.

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Comments (2)

  1. I love these photos. This post reminds me of the wonderful educational training film, “All My Babies.” (1953)

    With a joyous soundtrack scored by Louis Applebaum and performed by the Musical Art Chorus in Washington, D.C., the film follows Miss Mary as she prepares for and delivers babies in two different socio-economic conditions. She’s a midwife, advisor, friend, nurse and mother-figure to these women, and if you’ve never seen a baby being born, you will find the film even more fascinating.

    “All My Babies” was added to the National Film Registry in 2002.

    You can watch the film in the Library of Congress National Screening Room:
    https://www.loc.gov/item/2017604960/

  2. This is amazing! I love to read about the people, places, and events that make up our today! Thank you everyone who has contributed to keeping our past alive! God bless!

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