Delivered by Midwives: African American Midwifery in the Twentieth-Century South

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Winner of the 2019 American Association for the History of Nursing Lavinia L. Dock Award for Exemplary Historical Research and Writing in a Book

“Catchin’ babies” was merely one aspect of the broad role of African American midwives in the twentieth-century South. Yet, little has been written about the type of care they provided or how midwifery and maternity care evolved under the increasing presence of local and federal health care structures.

Using evidence from nursing, medical, and public health journals of the era; primary sources from state and county departments of health; and personal accounts from varied practitioners, Delivered by Midwives: African American Midwifery in the Twentieth-Century South provides a new perspective on the childbirth experience of African American women and their maternity care providers. Author Jenny M. Luke moves beyond the usual racial dichotomies to expose a more complex shift in childbirth culture, revealing the changing expectations and agency of African American women in their rejection of a two-tier maternity care system and their demands to be part of an inclusive, desegregated society.

Moreover, Luke illuminates valuable aspects of a maternity care model previously discarded in the name of progress. High maternal and infant mortality rates led to the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act in 1921. This marked the first attempt by the federal government to improve the welfare of mothers and babies. Almost a century later, concern about maternal mortality and persistent racial disparities have forced a reassessment. Elements of the long-abandoned care model are being reincorporated into modern practice, answering current health care dilemmas by heeding lessons from the past.

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