Black midwives helped birth hundreds of Anson County children

Submitted by Easter Gatewood Rhue

February 27, 2014

LILESVILLE — In the early years, Black midwives delivered most Black babies and many white babies. They served as physician, assisting women with childbirth and delivery, and counselor, often helping new mothers adapt to their new role by providing education and instruction on how to care for themselves and their new infant.

Hallie Sturdivant Gatewood, mother of Lilesville resident Easter Gatewood Rhue, was one of a handful of women in Anson County who were practicing midwives. Ms. Gatewood, who died of natural causes in 1970, was a Grade A certified midwife for the U.S. Department of Labor and the State of North Carolina from 1934–1962. Many who may read this story, may have relatives who were brought into the world with the help of this strong and caring woman.

Mrs. Gatewood, along with other area midwives like Mrs. Florrie Ward, Mrs. Lizzie Lee Ingram and others, were certified by the State Board of Health and the U.S. Department of Labor, Children’s Bureau (Bureau of Maternity and Infancy) and regulated by the N.C. State Board of Health -Maternal and Child Health Service. These midwives were often the only help for rural area women without access to a doctor’s care.

Mrs. Rhue remembers, “Mother would have her Midwife’s Bag ready at all times. Whenever she would get the word that she was needed to attend a woman ready to give birth she would grab her bag and off she would go.” She adds, “Because Mother didn’t drive, she would usually get picked up from our house by a member of the woman’s family. Mother and other Anson County midwives delivered a lot of babies in the county.”

As a midwife, Mrs. Gatewood delivered babies from 1934 until 1962. Historically Black midwives were part doctors, part caretakers, part counselors and part teachers in their communities, bringing into the world Black babies and white babies alike. Mrs. Rhue shared some of the “Physician’s Birth Memorandum” booklets that her mother was required to use to record information about each birth. As noted on the booklets, “each and every child born in this State shall be registered.”

In addition to notations regarding the names and race of the mother and father, their marital status, age and whether the child was born alive or stillborn, Mrs. Gatewood often included remarks regarding the birth or comments she received for her service. Her first entry in one of the “booklets” labeled 1935–1940 she recorded the birth of one male child born October 10, 1935 to a married white couple aged 33 and 32. The remarks said, “Well pleased with my work.”