A friend of mine shared with me this incredible piece of history from a community not far from where I live. She happened upon a mini medical museum at Caribou Memorial Hospital in Soda Springs, Idaho and told me about Mother George. It happens to be black history month and so I thought it appropriate to share the story of Mother George, a black midwife who lived near Grays Lake, Idaho in the 1880s.
From what I have read of this midwife’s history, I don’t think she was Mormon but she delivered babies of LDS families in the surrounding communities. Ellen Carney, a local historian, shared that she delivered both white and black babies, owned a ranch and practiced frontier medicine during the gold rush era (source).
The controversy concerning Mother George comes after she dies when it is discovered, as the body is being prepared for burial, that she is actually a man. Yes, a man. Nobody knew otherwise. The discovery was shocking for the community even though it was noted that she had some masculine features. Lee Cantwell, an LDS retired dentist and author, recalled that his grandmother, Effie Allsop Greene, who was born June 14, 1889, said, “I was delivered by a Negro nanny on a cattle ranch in Grays Lake, Idaho. My mother told me that Mother George had the largest hands she had ever seen on a woman and that she wore men’s shoes” (source). However, it should be noted that once the true gender of Mother George was revealed most families would not admit to having had her services.
This small piece of history begs so many questions:
Who really was Mother George?
How did he come upon midwifery, especially as a black man?
We may never know but if you feel like cuddling up for an interesting read, “Mother George, the Midwife Who Shocked Grays Lake” is available on kindle for only $2.99. It is the imaginings of author, Lee Cantwell, of how Mother George may have come to be. If you would like to read the first chapter you can go to this link. I admit I quickly devoured the pages of this piece of historical fiction.
As a black man of that era, pretending to be a female midwife may well have been his only way to engage in a profession that he found fulfilling. White men of that time would not blink an eye at having a black granny midwife care for their wife, but a black man? And what opportunities were there for a black man to become a doctor? Today, it wouldn’t seem controversial to have a male caregiver such as an OBGYN or MD but what about a male midwife? There are more and more female OBGYNs and MDs. But it is rare to find a male midwife.
I’m guessing that Mother George was nothing like this:
You should know that this advertisement is a farce but I couldn’t help but share it. Too funny!
Do you know any male midwives?
Do you think they are just as accepted as female midwives?
Does gender matter when it comes to maternity care?
I’m not trying to pass judgment here. I have had positive and negative experiences with both genders as it pertains to childbirth. I have had a female OBGYN but felt my male OBGYN was more understanding and supportive of my birth wishes. I’m sure that my experience is not necessarily because of their gender. I have only received care from female midwives and I have been very pleased. I felt their care was very personalized in comparison to my experience with doctors. But I know there are midwives on both ends of the spectrum. I have to wonder if I would have been able to have the same kind of bond with a male midwife.
There was a time when men took over childbirth and vigorously defamed midwives. I would hope that today we can blend the strengths of the masculine and feminine to provide optimal care for women and their babies.
Is it acceptable to be a male midwife or a contradiction?