‘Famous Midwives’ is a Feminist Midwife blog series to bring awareness to the work of midwives, promote the national and international impact of midwifery, and advertise the images of those known to some by name, to few by face, but to midwives as part of our community. Each “Part” of the series includes midwives considered “famous” by the nature of their work, their contribution to the profession, and their presence as motivators and forward-thinkers and change-makers. Five midwives are included in each “Part,” with great respect for the diversity of the profession, attention to the past and the present, and ultimate adoration for the variety of capacities midwives fill in their provision of our dedicated model of care. If you know a famous midwife who should be featured on the series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Francis Hill Coley
Photo Credit: Amazon
“Mary Francis Hill was born August 15, 1900 in Baker County, Georgia. She was the youngest child and the surviving twin of Martha, who died at childbirth. Mary was raised by her aunts and uncles after losing her parents at a young age, and her value of willingness to help others was shaped by this act. Mary had little, if any, formal education, but in a Georgia where women were often treated as less than equal citizens, and where, for poor and black women, the struggle was compounded, she became an influential advocate for community health.
Mary married carpenter Ashley Coley and the family moved to Albany in 1930. It was after this move that she became interested in midwifery and was trained by Alabama midwife Onnie Lee Logan in the apprentice tradition. For over 30 years Mary delivered more than 3,000 babies in Dougherty, Lee, Mitchell and Worth counties. She was known for her tireless work ethic and her willingness to serve both black and white mothers in the segregated south.
Her care of new families extended beyond the delivery of the baby. She would visit for days after the birth to help in cooking, cleaning and washing clothes, and she organized the registration of forms and certificates to be filed with the county health office. She believed her work was a spiritual calling, and she let nothing keep her from mothers who needed her, seeing no racial barriers.
Mary Coley was recognized by more than her community for the work she did. In 1952, documentarian George Stoney filmed All My Babies, a movie produced by the Georgia Health Department as an instructional training film. Stoney followed “Miss Mary” for four months, recording the preparation for and delivery of babies in rural conditions in the Albany area, with help from local public health doctors and nurses. The film is not only a portrait of Mary, but also is a historical record of the actual living conditions of her patients.
In 2002 the film was selected by the Library of Congress for placement on the National Film Registry as “a culturally, historically and artistically significant work.” It has been used as a tool for midwife training and as an example of early documentary style filming .
The Anacostia Smithsonian Museum for African American History and Culture hosted an exhibit in 2005, “Reclaiming Midwives: Pillars of Community Support” which featured Miss Mary among the midwives. The exhibit emphasizes the role of African American midwives at the center of health and social support systems in black communities.
That same year other exhibits opened at the Columbia University School of Nursing as well as the Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. Mary Coley was featured in both.
When Mary Coley died in March, 1966 in Albany, she was recognized as a healer, an advocate for healthy babies, and a liaison between the healthcare system and her community. She was also hailed as a role model for future generations of women who want to make a difference.
In 2007 George Stoney returned to Georgia to film a reunion of 150 babies delivered by Mary, all grown up with stories of their own. The film is currently in the editing stage. When these people tell the stories of their lives, it will be even more evident that Mary Coley had a profound influence on her community and beyond.”
University of Rhode Island
Photo Credit: URI
Since joining the faculty at the University of Rhode Island in 1998, Dr. Mercer has continued her commitments to teach midwifery and other students, provide midwifery care through the URI Center for Midwifery at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island in Pawtucket, and carry out her research examining gentle birth practices especially the effects of delayed cord clamping on infants. She is recognized by her peers as a Fellow in the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
Dr. Mercer is linked to midwifery in New England through her past experience as midwifery faculty and director at Georgetown University where she participated in the education of several current leaders in midwifery in this region and a number of the excellent preceptors. Education of new midwives is her primary commitment-“to make midwives for our daughters and granddaughters.”
Her practice experience ranges from home births to medical centers in Washington DC/Maryland/Virginia area, Alabama, Mississippi, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Through the URI Center for Midwifery, she offers well-woman, antepartum, birth and postpartum care to women from Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts.
Internationally, Dr. Mercer helped to bring gentle birthing practices to Moldova and the Ukraine as she coordinated and participated in a didactic and clinical Training of Trainers for physicians and midwives in family-centered maternity care thus assisting to introduce change in the former Soviet medical system that persists in Eastern Europe.
Currently, Dr. Mercer is the Principal Investigator on a randomized controlled trial at Women and Infants Hospital examining the effect of delayed cord clamping on outcomes of very low birth weight babies. She is also part of the Risk and Vulnerability Research Group at URI examining these concepts across population groups.
International Confederation of Midwives
Photo Credit: Frances Ganges’ Twitter Profile
Frances has a vast global experience, working in different settings and fulfilling different roles as manager, educator and clinician. She has worked alongside a number of global agencies and last held the position of Senior Technical Advisor at the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. As well as being a midwife, Frances holds an MPH from Johns Hopkins University. Born and raised in the United States of America she has spent a significant amount of time living and working in Africa.
University of Central Lancashire
Photo Credit: BBC
A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) midwifery professor has brought her expertise on normal childbirth to a Canadian University after being appointed as the first ever international visiting scholar for a new endowed scholarship programme, the Elaine Carty Scholarship programme.
Professor Soo Downe was invited to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to share her extensive research into childbirth trends and promote research into the nature and consequences of normal birth, with minimal medical or technological intervention. As the first visiting scholar in this field, Soo visited hospitals in Vancouver as well as sharing her research within the University, and in a public lecture.
Soo, who was a midwife for 15 years before entering higher education, promotes research into “normal birth”; delivery with minimal medical or technological intervention, such as Caesarean sections, labour induction, anesthesia, episiotomies and antibiotics. She asserts that the evidence supports more births at home, or in midwife led units out of hospital, for healthy women and babies.
Soo said: “Getting childbirth right is profoundly important for the wellbeing of families, and for future generations. While I have always believed that birth with no or minimal intervention is ideal if mother and baby are healthy, recent exciting evidence from epigenetics seems to suggest that there is biological evidence for the impact of what happens during labour and birth on the way genes might be expressed for the child, in infancy and in adulthood, and then for their own children in the future.”
The Director of Midwifery at UBC Michelle Butler commented: “We have invited Soo be our first visiting scholar to raise the discussion in British Columbia about how we support women to birth, and how the care that we provide impacts on women, their families and future generations.
“We hope that her visit and insights into normalising birth stimulated debate, encouraged practitioners, researchers and students in British Columbia to reflect on how the work that they do impacts on birth outcomes, and acts as a catalyst to collaborative research around normal birth.”
Soo’s visit was part of the UBC Elaine Carty Visiting Scholars Initiative which brings established international clinicians or researchers to the University to meet and work with faculty, students, alumni and community partners. Soo joined UCLan in 2001 when she set up the Midwifery Studies Research Unit. She now leads the Research in Childbirth and Health group at the University.
Soo is the co-editor of a new book: The Roar Behind the Silence: Why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care, which in its first week of sale sold 1,000 copies. It is now number one on the Amazon Family and Lifestyle Gynaecology and Obstetrics best seller list.
Family Health and Birth Center
Dr. Ruth Watson Lubic is a nurse midwife, educator, administrator and crusader. Her decades of work transformed the way American women give birth and she has spent her career finding ways to help low-income pregnant women connect to the prenatal care they often cannot receive. In her twenty-five years as Maternity Center Association’s (now known as Childbirth Connection) General Director (1970 – 1995), she became a major force in transforming health care for childbearing women and their families. Initially, Childbirth Connection established the controversial East 92nd Street out-of-hospital Childbearing Center (CbC), the first such center in the United States. Notwithstanding enormous difficulty, Childbirth Connection opened a second successful CbC in the southwest Bronx for a largely underserved population.
A movement developed and hundreds of similar CbCs arose across the nation and the world, serving families at all social and economic levels. As important, if not more so, has been the acknowledged impact on conventional birthing practices in hospitals across the country. In 1983, Lubic took on the monumental task of establishing a birth center in Washington, D.C., aimed at reducing the high rate of infant mortality in the poorest areas of the city. Her decision to move her efforts from New York City to Washington, D.C., in one of the city’s poorest areas, Wards 5 and 6, stemmed from the fact that Washington’s infant mortality rate was twice the national average. In 1993, as the first nurse to receive the MacArthur “Genius” award, she used her grant to launch the birth center. She moved to D.C. in 1994 to continue her work at the birth center, which uses nurse midwives to assist pregnant women through the entire maternity experience, including delivery. She has received honorary degrees and special recognitions from eight universities, more than two dozen awards of merit from across the country, the Rockefeller Public Service Award from Princeton University, the American Public Health Association’s Martha May Eliot Award and the Institute of Medicine’s Lienhard Award. She was also named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing. Her most recent Honorary Degree was conferred by the University of Massachusetts Medical School at Worcester in 2009.