Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in History


Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

Elizabeth A. Payne

Second Advisor

Sheila Skemp

Third Advisor

Ted Ownby

Relational Format



Across the United States as late as 1910, midwives delivered half of all babies. Their practice was primarily among women of white European descent and African American women of the South. The practice of midwifery was commonplace in Mississippi. Together, black midwives and white nurses would help to implement a new public healthcare structure in Mississippi during the 1920s. Records of the Mississippi State Board of Health together with letters from midwives and public health nurses' reports put midwives at the heart of the story of public health reform. Already held in high esteem by their own communities, midwives came to be more respected by the white community as a result of education and the embrace of new practices. Midwives gradually gained in the estimation of the medical community as well. Underprivileged African American women throughout Mississippi and the South contributed to the well being of their communities through public health work—one of the few venues open to African American women at the time. The majority of these women became midwives because they saw a need within their community and wanted to help their neighbors. Midwives assisted and cared for birthing women at a time when many community hospitals rejected African American women as patients, either due to racism or the women's inability to pay. After the passage of the Hill-Burton Act in 1946, treating poor women, who only a few years prior could not afford the luxury of a doctor, became financially lucrative for physicians. Through oral interviews and archival material, this thesis will prove that even after midwives became educated and adhered to strict state guidelines to be able to continue their practice as midwives, as a result of the Hill-Burton Act, they were robbed of their practice because they infringed on the white medical community's monetarily profitable business.

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