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

Delivered by Midwives

African American Midwifery in the Twentieth-Century South

By Jenny M. Luke
Hardcover : 9781496818911, 210 pages, 22 b&w illustrations, November 2018
Paperback : 9781496821133, 210 pages, 22 b&w illustrations, October 2018

A history of African American childbirth experience and midwifery's renewed value in combating health disparities


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.


"The book stands as a historical record and shows how health care can function effectively even in the most challenging circumstances. "

- Lois Elfman, Women in Higher Education

"An exemplary and comprehensively detailed work of meticulous and documented scholarship, Delivered by Midwives: African American Midwifery in the Twentieth-Century South is an extraordinary and unique study that is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library American medical history and African American history collections in general, and American midwifery supplemental studies reading lists in particular. "

- Midwest Book Review

"All in all, it’s a fascinating history and a necessary text for anyone interested in midwifery, the politics of childbirth, or black community-building in the twentieth-century South. "

- MuggleNet

"Jenny Luke’s Delivered by Midwives is a significant addition to the literature on this subject and on midwifery in general. Although a slim book, it provides an excellent history of midwifery in the South from the days of the “granny midwife” to the expansion of nurse midwifery in the United States. "

- Megan Seaholm, University of Texas at Austin, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 124, Number 1, July 2020

"Jenny M. Luke has written a concise book that raises a myriad of complex themes: sexism, professional identity and authority, classism, state and federal struggles over the definitions and funding of health care, and, most significant, racism in all its persistent forms. The book details the ways these mammoth struggles defined the experiences of African American midwives. "

- Sandra L. Barney, Lock Haven University, The Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXXVI, No. 1, February 2020